It’s the most important question a potential homebuyer asks: What can I afford? For those house-hunting in a metro region, the answer could be disheartening, especially as prices continue to climb and Americans increasingly move to urban areas.
To help consumers, NerdWallet calculated how much house a typical family in each of the nation’s largest 100 metropolitan areas could comfortably afford. By using data on debt, median income, housing costs and home prices, we recommend how much families can spend while remaining within healthy budget parameters.
The list below shows the top 10 most affordable U.S. metro areas, as determined by how many square feet a typical family could buy. See the full rankings for all 100 metro areas here.
10 most affordable U.S. metros for homebuyers
1. Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, Indiana
Affordable home value: $294,318
Number of square feet: 5,302
The Indianapolis metro area is by far the most affordable in the country, beating the No. 2 region by almost 1,640 square feet. While 5,000 square feet may seem like an unobtainable house size, our calculations found that families can afford this with an annual income of $81,500 — less than our list’s median. Indianapolis homebuyers can thank the area’s average price per square foot of $56 for their spacious abodes.
2. Memphis, Tennessee-Mississippi-Arkansas
Affordable home value: $283,998
Number of square feet: 3,663
Families in Memphis can afford more square feet than in any other metro area in Tennessee. Homebuyers here can comfortably buy homes that are 1,000-square-feet bigger than what house hunters in Nashville and Knoxville can afford. Memphis — Tennessee’s second-largest metro area — is one of only two places in our top 10 that isn’t in the Midwest. The typical family here earns $81,200 annually, which goes quite far with local housing at $78 per square foot.
3. Dayton, Ohio
Affordable home value: $260,906
Number of square feet: 3,511
The first of many Ohio areas on our list, Dayton residents can afford larger homes than all other metropolitan regions in the state, despite having a lower median annual income. Typical families here are able to afford 3,511 square feet on an annual income of $77,732. The average price per square foot is $74.
4. Cleveland-Elyria, Ohio
Affordable home value: $298,800
Number of square feet: 3,504
While Cleveland’s $85 per square foot is higher than most other Ohio metros, so is the area’s income. Families here on average earn $85,306 annually, which is above all other Ohio cities in our top 10. Although some residents may enjoy the stable and affordable housing, others could be frustrated by Cleveland’s low appreciation rate: median list prices grew just 3% last year.
5. Akron, Ohio
Affordable home value: $291,020
Number of square feet: 3,497
The fifth-largest city in Ohio, Akron is known as the hometown of NBA star LeBron James. While the annual family income here of $82,994 is close to our list’s median, the purchasing power of residents in Akron is much higher, and families here can afford about 3,500 square feet. In comparison, families in Salt Lake City — where median annual family income is only $200 less — can afford a 1,918-square-foot house.
6. Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pennsylvania
Affordable home value: $206,727
Number of square feet: 3,497
Youngstown may be one of the most affordable places in the country, but it’s also one of the poorest. Annual family incomes here are just $66,700, the fifth lowest of the nation’s 100 largest metros. In August 2015, Youngstown’s median list prices were $88,000, with a 0% increase over the past year, according to Realtor.com.
7. Cincinnati, Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana
Affordable home value: $304,307
Number of square feet: 3,330
Cincinnati, the biggest metro area by population in our top 10, has an average price per square foot of $91, which is Ohio’s second-highest value after Columbus. But income for Cincinnati families hasn’t kept up with this price: the median annual income here is below that of Cleveland families. Still, the area is affordable, although that may change. Cincinnati’s median list prices increased 9% while the number of home listings dropped 32% compared with a year ago, according to Realtor.com.
8. Toledo, Ohio
Affordable home value: $257,171
Number of square feet: 3,295
Toledo, like Youngstown, suffers from low income and a high poverty rate. However, Toledo’s low home costs are accompanied by a price appreciation of 5.3% last year. Toledo’s 4.3% unemployment rate in August was below others on the list, including Cleveland and Youngstown.
9. Raleigh, North Carolina
Affordable home value: $351,588
Number of square feet: 3,163
Named as one of 2014’s best places for STEM graduates, the Raleigh metro area not only has a great job market, it also has affordable home prices. The higher family income here offsets the $111 price per square foot, the highest in our top 10.
10. Kansas City, Missouri-Kansas
Affordable home value: $313,296
Number of square feet: 3,156
With over 2 million residents, the Kansas City metro area is one of the largest regions in the Midwest — and growing. Even with the expanding population, the Kansas City area saw just a 6% increase in its listing prices last year, less than the national average of 7.4%, according to Realtor.com. This is good news for potential homebuyers, as the median home price here was $178,000 in August, well below the national median.
All recommended home prices are from NerdWallet’s home affordability calculations.
The recommended total home value was estimated as the sum of the down payment and the maximum conventional loan with mortgage insurance. The home price was then divided by Zillow’s 2014 average of price per square foot to calculate estimated size.
To read more on the methodology, see the full list of 100 metro areas.
Downtown Indianapolis, Indiana, skyline via iStock.