Best Cities to Buy a House During COVID-19

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As of July 2020, only four months into the pandemic, the Pew Research Center found that approximately 20% of Americans had moved due to COVID-19 concerns. Buying a house during a global health crisis may not have been one of your New Year's resolutions, but then again, 2020 has brought many surprises. For many, COVID-19 has underscored what matters most to them in both prospective cities and homes.

MoneyGeek studied hundreds of housing markets, examined the factors potential homebuyers care about the most and created a list of the best cities to buy a house during the pandemic. The factors most important to homebuyers when considering where to buy a home include affordability, the real estate market, park access, the job market, connectivity and a community's handling of the coronavirus. As the map demonstrates, not all cities are equal when considering these metrics.

Main Findings

It's hard to predict real estate market fluctuations even during normal times, but homebuyers are even more unsure if and where they should buy a house during the current pandemic. Purchasing a house can be an excellent financial move even during these uncertain times if you know which factors make a city a good place to buy a home during COVID-19. Learn which areas made our list of the best cities to buy a house in 2020.

Metro
Overall
Affordability
Real Estate Market
Job Market
Park Access
COVID
Connectivity

Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN

100

85

75

67

93

85

62

Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI

94

73

85

66

100

78

71

Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA

93

84

82

86

68

64

62

Toledo, OH

92

100

71

59

54

84

36

Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV

91

58

93

64

91

92

93

Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY

91

90

86

40

61

100

37

Pittsburgh, PA

89

97

54

33

78

91

51

Lincoln, NE

89

77

40

100

78

74

75

Cleveland-Elyria, OH

85

89

65

45

70

93

31

Columbus, OH

84

74

88

61

53

86

72

Kansas City, MO-KS

83

77

68

73

62

80

56

Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD

82

71

71

73

60

89

62

St. Louis, MO-IL

82

85

54

66

80

67

50

Madison, WI

81

61

67

74

93

75

76

Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA

79

44

92

56

90

97

94

Colorado Springs, CO

78

57

89

67

59

91

81

Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC

78

75

73

53

65

84

55

Raleigh, NC

76

67

75

56

55

87

80

Wichita, KS

76

91

65

49

42

78

37

Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA

76

79

68

56

52

75

61

Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI

76

79

75

40

51

89

52

Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD

76

75

65

32

65

93

70

Austin-Round Rock, TX

75

62

75

70

51

87

77

Oklahoma City, OK

74

94

62

61

30

70

33

Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA

74

52

82

44

87

96

75

Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA

74

83

51

65

64

67

43

Fort Wayne, IN

73

90

80

59

0

75

56

Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO

73

49

84

65

70

87

87

Boise City, ID

73

51

100

88

67

62

65

Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI

73

72

71

37

78

79

58

Anchorage, AK

72

73

53

51

76

75

61

Tulsa, OK

72

84

62

59

57

68

30

Lexington-Fayette, KY

70

81

52

67

46

69

55

Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX

70

73

66

64

45

75

59

Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN

69

78

81

63

39

72

28

Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA

64

52

91

35

68

86

72

Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN

64

77

69

68

2

84

44

Tucson, AZ

62

64

77

47

48

82

44

Lubbock, TX

62

94

69

65

38

22

21

Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI

61

57

75

65

73

64

40

Greensboro-High Point, NC

61

73

58

42

52

82

31

Albuquerque, NM

60

65

76

24

71

89

25

Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ

60

61

87

49

38

77

54

Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC

59

62

78

55

29

75

66

Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX

59

75

56

50

41

63

57

Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL

59

65

60

37

62

72

65

Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN

57

64

87

37

39

66

63

Durham-Chapel Hill, NC

56

56

58

55

43

87

63

San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX

54

69

61

55

34

69

39

Winston-Salem, NC

52

70

49

49

30

83

33

New Orleans-Metairie, LA

51

67

37

28

72

84

28

Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH

50

45

76

3

72

91

85

New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA

50

56

51

8

64

100

63

Jacksonville, FL

48

65

48

48

41

66

51

Reno, NV

48

41

75

51

54

73

69

San Diego-Carlsbad, CA

47

30

91

26

58

92

85

El Paso, TX

45

79

57

48

48

22

27

Fresno, CA

45

53

97

43

40

67

13

Baton Rouge, LA

44

72

21

51

38

69

33

Laredo, TX

44

96

55

44

36

0

18

Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL

44

62

48

3

55

74

74

Bakersfield, CA

43

67

85

17

38

67

8

Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA

41

48

79

24

37

74

64

Stockton-Lodi, CA

39

48

93

27

42

64

33

San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA

38

13

87

32

73

91

91

Memphis, TN-MS-AR

38

69

71

29

31

59

0

Corpus Christi, TX

35

73

20

45

55

34

31

Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV

33

55

62

0

59

62

46

San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA

32

0

91

48

58

92

100

Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA

17

27

63

0

46

80

64

Urban Honolulu, HI

16

21

23

19

70

84

74

Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL

0

49

0

1

38

48

40

Uncovering the Best Cities to Buy a Home

A young family is shown moving into their new home

If you already live in one of the best cities to buy a home during COVD-19, you're in good shape. Potential homeowners considering a move to a different area need to know that their new location provides the aspects of liveability that are most important to them. These may include affordability, a robust real estate market, or access to green spaces.

Most Affordable & Least Affordable Cities

First-time homebuyers don't want to end up in a house they can't afford, making it essential for them to create and stay on a budget and, if possible, buy in a city where their dollar stretches further.

While Toledo, Ohio received a perfect score of 100 for affordability, San Jose, California ranked last with a score of zero. Silicon Valley is a notoriously expensive place to buy a home. Top cities for home affordability are dotted throughout the country's eastern and central parts, providing several great options for buyers who want to make their homebuying dollar go the furthest.

Best & Worst Real Estate Markets

A robust real estate market provides homebuyers with ample inventory to find the property that works best with their budget, commuting needs, and lifestyle.

Boise, Idaho tops the list with a perfect score for 2020 when it comes to booming real estate markets, while the greater Miami area scored a zero. If living and working in Idaho don't match personal and professional goals, other top markets such as Fresno, California and the greater Washington D.C. area offer a wealth of homebuying options.

Best & Worst Cities for Park Access

When determining which cities are the best places to buy a home, it's essential to consider what features buyers value most in their everyday living. Some prioritize access to public green spaces over many other factors, especially when living in a bustling city where backyard space comes at a premium.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota metro area ranks at the top of the list for 2020, but homebuyers should consider how much of the year they can comfortably spend time in the city's parks. Rounding out the top five is the Seattle, Washington metro area, which also offers access to green spaces outside the city. Those who prioritize grass and trees should avoid Fort Wayne, Indiana, which received a score of zero.

Key Factors for First-Time Homebuyers

A young couple stand in front of their first home purchase with a 'sold' sign in the front yard.

When buying a home for the first time, several important factors should be kept in mind — especially for buyers looking to move to a new state. Some of these include:

The Cost of Living

Because tax rates are set by states, looking into what taxes are collected by a state or municipality is crucial. A state may charge income tax but not property tax, for instance. You should also consider other factors such as the cost of a tank of gas or a week's worth of groceries, for example. A cost of living calculator can help buyers anticipate these costs before purchasing a home.

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

Homebuyers who cannot pay at least 20% of the property's cost toward a down payment must carry private mortgage insurance (PMI). While PMI allows buyers to purchase more expensive homes, it also adds a monthly fee to their mortgage. Buying in a less expensive area can help these buyers put down 20% and avoid this additional cost. Buyers also need to consider current interest rates to see how those will affect their monthly mortgage payment. A mortgage calculator can help you determine how much home you can afford.

Transportation

Suppose a homebuyer's previous city offered ample public transportation, but their new city doesn't. In that case, factors such as purchasing a car, paying for car insurance and maintaining a vehicle will come into play. Even if a driver has good credit and a solid driving record, the average cost for car insurance totaled $1,379 in 2020.

Long-term Job Market

In addition to securing a job before moving, homebuyers should also consider whether their job is likely to continue existing long-term and whether multiple employers are in the area. They should also look into whether remote work is an option, particularly in light of the ongoing and unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 crisis.

Educational Access

Homebuyers who either already have children or are planning to do so in the future must also consider educational opportunities in their new location. If the public schools in a new city aren't known for providing quality education, individuals may need to consider the costs associated with a private school.

Expert Insight on Home Buying During the Pandemic

Hearing from experts in the field can help homebuyers get a real-time sense of how the market is moving and give them confidence when deciding how to proceed. MoneyGeek reached out to a mix of real estate experts and academics to get their read on the current home buying pulse.

  1. What factors should first-time homeowners consider when making their first purchase?
  2. How can buyers determine what makes for a good city to purchase a home?
  3. How has COVID-19 affected the real estate industry?
  4. What advice do you have for individuals navigating this process?
John Kirshenboim
John Kirshenboim
Jared Ringel
Jared Ringel

Principal Agent, The Atlas Team with Compass Florida

Rajeh A. Saadeh
Rajeh A. Saadeh

New Jersey and New York licensed real estate attorney, investor, and professor

Mark Saunders
Mark Saunders

CEO Saunders Realty, LLC, CEO Saunders Property Management CEO Real Estate Brokers Academy

Methodology

When assessing the best metro areas to buy a home in for 2020, MoneyGeek created an overall score influenced by five key metrics: affordability, real estate market, job market, park access and COVID-19 cases. Each of these five factors was weighted to create an overall score, as indicated below. Additionally, these five metrics were analyzed based on subfactors, each of which was assigned a relative weight indicated below. Both overall scores and individual metrics were calculated based on a 100-point scale.

MoneyGeek combined data from several different sources and chose the final list of 72 metro areas based on the combined overlap across all of these.

Overall Factors & Weights

1

Affordability: 32.5%

2

Real Estate Market: 15%

3

Job Market: 15%

4

Park Access: 15%

5

COVID-19 Rate and Growth: 15%

6

Broadband Connectivity: 7.5%


Affordability Factors: 32.5%

Affordability was determined based on median income compared to home prices. Higher incomes compared to housing costs per square foot indicate a more affordable location. Cities with rental prices higher vs. purchasing prices relative to other cities also indicate better overall affordability for homebuyers.

  • Median Income vs. Median Sales Price: 50%
  • Price per Square Foot: 25%
  • Price vs. Rent: 25%
Real Estate Market Factors: 15%

The real estate market was measured based on the number of days homes stayed on the market. Fewer days on the market indicate more active transactions. A more significant share of new listing and pending listing vs. active signify a healthier market. Similarly, price increases highlight a robust and active housing market.

  • Days on Market: 60%
  • New Listings vs. Active Listings: 10%
  • Pending Listings vs. Active Listings: 10%
  • Non-New Active Listings vs. Total Listings: 10%
  • Percent Listings w/ Price Increase vs. Percent Listings w/ Price Decrease: 10%
Job Market Factors: 15%

Cities with a higher number of jobs per capita ranked higher on this scale. Unemployment statistics are taken from the BLS and represent the number of people who were not employed but actively seeking jobs. Cities with higher rates of unemployment in the wake of COVID-19 scored lower on this scale.

  • Per Capita Change in Jobs Since Start of Pandemic: 25%
  • Jobs per Capita: 25%
  • Unemployment: 25%
  • Change in Unemployment Since Start of Pandemic: 25%
Park Access Factors: 15%

This metric assesses the prevalence of, access to and investment in outdoor recreation spaces available in a specific metro area, relative to city population and land area and adjusted to factor in large structures such as airports and railway stations.

  • Percent of Residents Within Half-Mile Walk of a Park: 30%
  • Population Density: 10%
  • Park Area vs. City Area: 10%
  • Park Area per Capita: 10%
  • Park Investment per Capita: 15%
  • Park Amenities: 25%
COVID-19 Growth Factors: 15%

COVID-19 growth was used as a factor for 2020’s rankings to reflect the importance of health and safety when purchasing a home. This metric was calculated based on growth in cases and deaths per capita from June 9 through September 9, 2020.

  • 3-Month COVID Case Growth per Capita: 50%
  • 3-Month COVID Death Growth per Capita: 50%
Broadband Connectivity Factors: 7.5%

The availability of broadband internet connectivity was used to measure the ability to work or learn from home. This metric was calculated based on how many households in the metro areas studied have broadband internet subscriptions.

  • Percentage of Households With Wired Broadband: 75%
  • Percentage of Households With Any Broadband: 25%

About the Author


expert-profile

Katy McWhirter is a professional writer and owner of Heritage Creatives, a boutique historical branding agency. She has experience in nonprofit management, marketing, personal finance, government relations and education from her decade-plus writing career. Katy’s work has been featured in both the United States and abroad, highlighting the need for research-driven, accessible information on financial topics.

Katy earned her bachelor’s degree in social entrepreneurship from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, and her master’s degree in modern history from the University of York in England. She spends her free time with her husband and two cats, restoring their 1901 home in Louisville and reading up on all things personal finance.


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