Realtors often say that the three factors governing home prices are location, location, location. The statement is so overused that it’s become a cliché, but it’s still true. Depending on the location, the quality and quantity of house you can buy for the same price will vary dramatically.
Here’s a sampling of how much single-family home you can buy for $200,000 or less in six different metropolitan areas across the country. Collectively, these cities represent some of the best buys you’ll find in the North and South, East, West and Midwest.
Portland, Oregon isn’t among the priciest cities in the state, but a couple of its suburbs are. However, a few areas within commuting distance offer good values. Just west of the city, in Beaverton, current listings include a 2-bedroom 1-bath home on 2½ acres for just $172,000. The house is a small fixer-upper of just 760 square feet, but for that price you probably can’t go wrong. Farther south, the town of Lebanon has a listing for a 3-bedroom 3-bath home, nearly 1500 square feet on a large lot for $170,000. In Salem, the state’s capital and an easy hour’s drive from Portland, is a 2-bedroom 1-bath for $165,000. It’s under 1000 square feet but sits on a third of an acre.
Albuquerque, New Mexico is one of the top U.S. cities for young, educated, single professionals. Real estate listings boast numerous homes at or under $200,000, including a 3-bedroom 2½-bath home of 2300 square feet at $200,000 and a Rio Rancho 3-bedroom 2-bath home of 1600 square feet for $177,000. In nearby Los Lunas – with both low crime rates and high property appreciation rates – you’ll find a 3-bedroom 2-bath home of 2200 square feet on nearly an acre for just $150,000.
St. Paul, Minnesota is a goldmine for fans of the arts and good house deals. In Bloomington you can expect to pay $185,000 for a 3-bedroom 1-bath home of 1400 square feet – on a quarter-acre lot. In St. Paul is a 3-bedroom 2-bath 1400-square-foot home on a large lot for $160,000. About 45 miles to the northwest, in Elk River, is a 4-bedroom 2-bath home of 2000 square feet on a third of an acre – for just $175,000.
St. Louis, Missouri illustrates why the Midwest and South are the most affordable areas in the U.S. in terms of home prices and cost of living. With a population of under 350, St. Louis is one of the country’s 20 largest metropolitan areas with the lowest cost of living. A typical sub-$200,000 home is a 3100-square-foot 3-bedroom 2½-bath home for $190,000. In nearby Imperial, you can find a 4-bedroom 2½-bath of 2000 square feet for $197,000. West of the city in St. Peters is a 4-bedroom 2½-bath home of 2700 square feet on an acre – for $200,000.
Charleston, South Carolina offers similarly impressive homes for similar prices, but it’s right on the Atlantic coast. Property appreciation rates vary, with the best areas found in the southwest and northeast corners of the city. One 3-bedroom 2½-bath home of 2300 square feet is listed at $196,000. A smaller but impressive home of 960 square feet, with 2 bedrooms and a single bath, lists for $198,000. A half hour’s drive to the northwest, in Summerville, a 3-bedroom 2-bath home of 1650 square feet lists for $185,000.
Boston, Massachusetts is powered in part by some of the country’s best colleges and universities – including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. Boston suburbs include Lawrence, where you can find a 6-bedroom 2-bath home of 2500 square feet for $199,000. In Brockton, you’ll find a 3-bedroom 1-bath home of 1000 square feet, also for $199,000. In Weymouth, a half-hour drive south, you can find a 2-bedroom 1-bath home of 1100 square feet for $195,000.
Compare factors important for home value with factors important to you
One key to making a good buy, regardless of your preferred region, is to seek locations with strong job growth and a solid stock of future buyers or renters.
If it’s important that you live within reach of cultural events or medical facilities, focus your search in or near a metro area. If a slower pace and outdoors-recreation options are more important to you, look to the suburbs or out-of-town areas. Home prices outside metro areas are often more affordable. In many areas, a drive of just a half hour means both “out of town” lifestyle and “out of town” prices.
If you’re living on retirement income, or if your income isn’t dependent on your location, an out-of-town home may be a best buy. If you need to commute to the city for work, look closely at commute times and transportation options. Will you have to drive? Are local carpools available? Are there public transportation options? Do you enjoy driving? A half-hour drive through the countryside may be more to your liking than stop-and-go traffic on a busy interstate.
You should also conduct online checks into crime rates and local schools before making a final decision, Websites such as NeighborhoodScout.com offer information by zip code for home values and appreciation, crime rates, and schools. A property’s location can also make a big difference in insurance rates – home and automobile.
Finally, the likely re-sale value of a home should never be ignored. Even if you plan to retire in your next home, or stay there for 20 years, circumstances change. Look into the typical appreciation rates for single-family homes in the area you’re considering. Through NeighborhoodScout.com and similar websites, you can locate the highest appreciating communities, by state, over the last 10 or 20 years.