Best Places for Young Families in Tennessee

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Tennessee is a state on the rise. According to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, public school test scores have improved faster in Tennessee than they have in any other state.

Home prices are rising as well. According to real estate website Zillow.com, median Tennessee home values have increased by 3.8% over the past year to $129,400, and they’re projected to grow 3.4% over the next year — outpacing nationwide projections of 2.6%.

These factors present opportunity and challenge for families looking to settle in the Volunteer State. It’s a state with many good school districts and varied, affordable housing, often in smaller communities outside larger cities such as Nashville and Memphis. Although rising home prices are good for existing homeowners, they’re an obstacle for potential homebuyers.

Affording a home can be particularly difficult for young families, whose budgets are often tighter. NerdWallet set out to identify Tennessee’s top places for young families that offer a combination of reasonable home prices, well-rated schools and low crime. Keep in mind that not every place at the top of our list hit the highest mark in all categories.

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NerdWallet’s analysis

By statistically comparing such factors as home affordability, income growth, education and a crime risk score, NerdWallet identified the best places to start your search for the Tennessee community that’s right for you. Here’s what our analysis of 98 places with a population over 5,000 turned up.

Best places for young families in Tennessee

1. Mount Carmel

Mount Carmel, in the northeast corner of the state, benefits from an affordable median home value of $127,900 and a GreatSchools rating of 8 out of 10. Its crime risk score is “most safe,” the highest possible, and families with kids make up roughly a third of the town’s households. Mount Carmel, which placed third in our previous analysis, is less than 10 miles from Kingsport and the 3,550-acre Bays Mountain Park.

2. Atoka

Grabbing second place for the second year in a row, Atoka received high scores in all of our categories, including a 9 out of 10 for its schools from GreatSchools.org and a crime risk grade of “most safe.” Atoka, which is 25 miles north of Memphis, features family events year-round, good for the 33.5% of households consisting of families with children.

3. Lakeland

Although Lakeland’s $226,800 median home value in 2014 is high for Tennessee, living there comes with sizeable benefits. The city of 13,000 was one of only four communities in our study to receive a perfect 10 from GreatSchools. Lakeland also earned our best risk rating of “most safe,” and its 15-year income growth rate of 69.8% was second-highest in our survey. The northeast Memphis suburb is home to the 235-acre Garner Lake, with its many recreational opportunities.

4. White House

White House’s history as a popular stop for stagecoach travelers is on display at the White House Inn Museum. The town of about 11,000 is 25 miles north of downtown Nashville, with its many cultural events as the nation’s country music capital. The 2014 median home value in White House was $168,700; its schools earn a solid rating of 8 out of 10, and its 15-year income growth rate of 42.6% far outpaces the state average. White House rose two spots from its rank in our study last year, likely because this year’s data include the crime risk score, for which the town earned a “safe” grade.

5. Spring Hill

The largest community in our top 10, Spring Hill, 30 miles south of Nashville, has seen its population surge to more than 32,000 from just under 8,000 in the 2000 census. The town is best known as the former location of General Motors’ Saturn manufacturing facility, which has continued as a flexible assembly plant following GM’s shuttering of the brand in 2009. Spring Hill received a 9 out of 10 rating from GreatSchools. The median home value for Spring Hill in 2014 was $198,200, making homes there generally more expensive than elsewhere in the state.

6. Nolensville

Also in the Nashville area, Nolensville counts a whopping 52.5% of its households as families with children. It received the best crime risk grading of “most safe” and a 10 out of 10 from GreatSchools.org. But living here isn’t cheap compared to the rest of Tennessee: The median home value is $293,500.

7. Paris

The most affordable city on our list to have received a score of 8 or higher from GreatSchools, Paris has a median home value of just $81,200. Over the past 20 years, the city’s infrastructure has been revitalized, including a restoration of 1920s-era architecture to the downtown shopping area. Worth noting: The city received a crime risk score of “least safe,” and nearly a third of families in poverty include young children.

8. Kingston

Kingston, roughly a half-hour west of Knoxville, jumped up from 24th on our list last year, likely because of its increased rating of 9 from GreatSchools, as well as the inclusion of our crime score, for which Kingston received “safe” marks. Housing is relatively affordable, with a median value of $127,400. Kingston is home to a Tennessee Valley Authority coal plant, one of the largest such facilities in the country.

9. Bloomingdale

An unincorporated area just outside of Kingsport, Bloomingdale grabs our No. 9 spot largely thanks to its affordable median home value of $90,900. Bloomingdale received a crime risk rating of “safe” and a GreatSchools score of 8. One point of concern here is economic opportunity — median income in Bloomingdale has grown only 7.5% since 1999, which is well below the 23.3% average growth of communities statewide.

10. Dayton

Located next to several wildlife refuge and outdoor recreation areas, including Armstrong Ferry Recreation Area, Dayton provides a balanced quality of life at below-median home values. The town is best known as the site of the Scopes trial in 1925, which focused on evolution versus creationism. The community of 7,300 is home to Bryan College, a four-year Christian liberal arts college named after William Jennings Bryan, the prosecutor in the trial.

Best places for young families in Tennessee

Scroll to the right in the table below to see all data categories.

RankPlacePopulationGreatSchools rating2014 median home valueSelected monthly owner costs2014 median family income1999-2014 Income GrowthResidents who are married with childrenFamilies in poverty with young childrenCrime risk ratingFinal Score
1Mount Carmel 5,443 8 $127,900 $964 $59,212 35.79%30.3%9.40%Most Safe73.51
2Atoka 8,727 9 $173,600 $1,419 $83,500 35.46%33.5%0.00%Most Safe67.88
3Lakeland 12,549 10 $226,800 $1,781 $109,421 69.79%31.1%0.00%Most Safe66.74
4White House 10,618 8 $168,700 $1,313 $79,468 42.59%35.5%0.00%Safe66.49
5Spring Hill 31,467 9 $198,200 $1,507 $82,597 31.85%39.2%7.10%Most Safe65.76
6Nolensville 6,131 10 $293,500 $1,889 $105,589 45.79%52.5%7.40%Most Safe64.90
7Paris 10,165 8 $81,200 $883 $39,066 21.10%15.6%30.70%Least Safe64.83
8Kingston 5,888 9 $127,400 $1,169 $57,356 27.52%8.8%12.40%Safe64.66
9Bloomingdale 9,882 8 $90,900 $858 $38,148 7.45%19.1%8.70%Safe64.58
10Dayton 7,316 8 $107,700 $928 $43,074 29.94%14.8%52.40%Safe63.54
11Seymour 10,703 7 $149,000 $1,055 $61,081 35.00%22.0%0.00%Most Safe63.51
12Fairview 8,020 8 $169,100 $1,341 $66,947 34.39%27.8%16.70%Most Safe62.80
13Arlington 11,623 7 $222,200 $1,875 $101,028 81.70%52.7%0.00%Most Safe61.68
14Henderson 6,429 7 $107,000 $961 $48,548 18.68%19.3%15.30%Safe61.40
15Franklin 66,596 10 $312,400 $1,936 $102,946 48.27%29.7%7.20%Most Safe61.38
16McKenzie 5,561 7 $88,900 $845 $42,021 22.43%12.7%35.40%Less Safe60.97
17South Cleveland 5,951 6 $115,600 $940 $52,747 31.92%22.0%22.20%Safe60.35
18Brentwood 39,059 10 $487,900 $2,626 $149,101 25.88%42.9%6.00%Most Safe60.31
19Bristol 26,705 7 $103,100 $978 $47,859 28.17%15.3%27.90%Less Safe60.16
20Martin 11,396 8 $127,800 $1,099 $51,966 34.46%11.0%49.80%Safe60.12
21Kingsport 52,835 8 $134,000 $1,095 $54,267 35.05%14.3%35.90%Less Safe60.10
22Greeneville 15,015 7 $124,300 $965 $51,418 42.32%15.0%55.20%Less Safe59.92
23Lexington 7,771 7 $120,400 $1,118 $56,500 36.38%19.4%7.90%Least Safe59.92
24Collierville 46,780 9 $273,500 $2,138 $118,985 40.26%37.4%3.80%Most Safe59.28
25Mount Juliet 27,053 9 $200,000 $1,487 $78,443 24.38%27.9%16.50%Most Safe59.15
26Jonesborough 5,138 6 $153,000 $1,077 $61,318 38.83%16.5%7.60%Most Safe58.64
27Milan 7,826 7 $91,700 $894 $37,827 -1.76%18.8%0.00%Safe58.62
28Millersville 6,481 6 $156,500 $1,250 $65,250 36.31%21.9%0.00%Most Safe58.12
29Greenbrier 6,550 7 $141,700 $1,246 $60,057 24.44%23.5%17.90%Most Safe58.07
30Clarksville 140,563 7 $135,500 $1,159 $53,144 28.30%24.5%25.10%Safe57.85
31Johnson City 64,614 8 $154,500 $1,165 $55,273 34.89%13.9%33.00%Less Safe57.72
32Loudon 5,606 5 $108,800 $892 $44,918 13.98%25.7%65.00%Most Safe57.61
33Signal Mountain 8,416 9 $288,800 $1,849 $118,696 36.44%26.7%7.70%Most Safe57.55
34Dyersburg 16,998 6 $91,800 $1,080 $48,117 38.45%17.1%26.70%Least Safe57.36
35Fayetteville 6,991 7 $95,400 $1,121 $43,515 33.99%10.9%37.20%Least Safe57.17
36Lawrenceburg 10,440 7 $84,500 $940 $35,733 8.76%14.4%37.50%Least Safe56.48
37Gallatin 31,800 7 $161,700 $1,225 $56,164 34.05%18.8%22.50%Safe56.05
38Smyrna 42,235 7 $149,000 $1,270 $62,964 22.14%23.6%14.10%Safe55.67
39Bartlett 57,805 8 $172,900 $1,608 $86,583 23.76%25.6%4.40%Safe55.27
40Church Hill 6,742 5 $127,000 $1,080 $54,750 26.09%24.5%7.70%Most Safe55.20
41Hendersonville 53,257 8 $197,300 $1,546 $73,258 27.13%26.1%17.40%Most Safe55.06
42Elizabethton 14,322 6 $110,100 $951 $43,301 29.90%13.7%43.20%Less Safe55.00
43Portland 11,853 5 $130,600 $1,125 $58,496 43.42%21.6%12.50%Safe54.88
44Alcoa 8,556 7 $120,400 $960 $47,266 6.62%14.3%30.00%Less Safe53.93
45Lewisburg 11,252 6 $93,800 $908 $40,900 6.94%12.5%36.90%Safe53.58
46Maryville 27,824 7 $189,100 $1,367 $67,813 37.88%24.3%22.90%Safe53.46
47Lenoir City 8,867 7 $116,300 $1,073 $38,068 13.76%16.6%50.80%Less Safe53.09
48Oak Ridge 29,301 7 $152,000 $1,289 $74,007 29.64%16.3%29.50%Less Safe52.99
49Morristown 29,152 6 $112,400 $966 $39,260 17.58%19.9%48.40%Less Safe52.89
50Murfreesboro 114,660 8 $177,200 $1,416 $66,092 25.52%20.8%20.40%Safe52.85
51Rockwood 5,480 5 $91,300 $864 $39,205 21.61%15.7%35.50%Least Safe52.78
52Dickson 14,814 7 $133,700 $1,098 $45,830 7.50%19.6%21.00%Less Safe52.38
53Jefferson City 8,342 5 $109,800 $947 $43,506 28.09%14.2%28.90%Less Safe52.05
54Tullahoma 18,900 6 $118,700 $1,122 $48,606 22.13%15.6%33.90%Safe52.01
55Crossville 11,125 7 $133,900 $1,009 $36,810 10.85%14.3%30.70%Least Safe51.81
56La Vergne 33,637 6 $127,700 $1,175 $55,833 1.10%28.7%5.30%Safe51.80
57Knoxville 181,759 6 $116,500 $1,077 $47,180 25.12%10.6%28.60%Least Safe51.12
58Manchester 10,223 6 $112,500 $1,028 $45,474 18.41%15.7%58.50%Less Safe50.82
59Savannah 7,029 5 $87,000 $871 $34,818 16.95%11.6%39.90%Least Safe50.61
60Sweetwater 5,856 4 $104,800 $950 $46,397 31.55%14.4%10.80%Less Safe50.35
61Harrison 7,595 5 $138,700 $1,170 $64,557 16.50%19.4%16.90%Most Safe50.33
62Millington 11,152 5 $116,800 $1,249 $63,482 42.67%13.6%27.50%Less Safe50.01
63Middle Valley 13,282 6 $156,200 $1,266 $66,698 15.80%23.0%30.40%Safe49.97
64Harriman 6,296 5 $85,300 $1,005 $38,448 23.27%12.8%60.50%Least Safe49.41
65Union City 10,791 5 $94,500 $933 $44,044 8.12%14.5%34.10%Least Safe48.92
66Athens 13,603 6 $117,800 $965 $41,360 4.54%16.5%49.00%Least Safe48.80
67Clinton 9,874 6 $135,400 $1,102 $51,353 19.15%8.8%34.60%Safe48.73
68Germantown 39,207 8 $282,100 $2,151 $126,360 21.82%27.3%5.40%Most Safe48.68
69Winchester 8,493 4 $107,600 $973 $46,186 12.15%16.5%0.00%Safe47.46
70Lebanon 27,847 7 $169,800 $1,250 $50,514 12.02%18.2%40.50%Safe47.34
71Cleveland 42,331 6 $156,500 $1,204 $49,356 22.93%17.3%31.10%Least Safe47.00
72McMinnville 13,600 5 $92,300 $915 $35,378 7.99%14.0%82.70%Less Safe46.70
73Oakland 6,944 3 $166,400 $1,327 $74,018 30.35%26.4%0.00%Most Safe46.10
74Soddy-Daisy 13,109 3 $125,400 $1,114 $54,806 32.40%20.1%3.10%Safe45.56
75Cookeville 31,004 7 $157,800 $1,166 $41,484 4.70%10.5%38.20%Less Safe45.36
76Sparta 5,036 6 $100,700 $936 $31,944 -3.38%9.2%87.70%Least Safe45.30
77Columbia 35,207 5 $116,000 $1,066 $44,799 4.62%15.3%27.90%Less Safe45.19
78Newport 6,890 5 $87,400 $953 $30,859 15.18%4.7%78.00%Least Safe44.96
79Collegedale 9,488 4 $192,000 $1,328 $70,474 34.65%21.6%0.00%Most Safe44.58
80Farragut 21,111 6 $311,400 $1,881 $121,289 32.67%31.1%8.50%Most Safe44.03
81La Follette 7,304 2 $75,600 $829 $32,394 33.67%14.2%71.20%Least Safe43.18
82Humboldt 8,363 3 $75,500 $899 $37,265 13.46%8.1%28.20%Less Safe43.06
83Pigeon Forge 6,004 6 $171,700 $1,454 $46,818 35.68%13.8%40.50%Least Safe42.39
84Jackson 67,190 4 $118,700 $1,217 $51,073 24.81%15.8%36.90%Least Safe42.21
85Springfield 16,598 4 $127,900 $1,091 $48,175 14.65%16.2%25.80%Less Safe42.16
86Bolivar 5,275 3 $85,900 $925 $42,426 20.19%7.5%56.30%Less Safe41.86
87Shelbyville 20,616 4 $91,500 $1,048 $32,552 -10.73%18.0%35.20%Safe41.30
88Green Hill 6,667 4 $184,400 $1,335 $74,018 11.12%20.4%0.00%Most Safe40.89
89Red Bank 11,759 4 $123,500 $1,130 $48,598 16.55%13.0%44.10%Less Safe40.86
90Chattanooga 171,863 4 $141,300 $1,169 $51,125 23.74%12.9%27.80%Least Safe40.54
91Covington 9,033 4 $96,100 $981 $34,306 6.50%6.2%61.40%Least Safe39.78
92Brownsville 10,079 3 $92,200 $989 $35,382 4.74%10.3%10.60%Less Safe39.72
93Pulaski 7,734 4 $97,700 $1,050 $36,875 -0.92%10.1%38.90%Less Safe39.71
94Goodlettsville 16,466 6 $181,500 $1,555 $63,843 17.88%14.1%9.20%Least Safe39.02
95Sevierville 15,592 5 $167,300 $1,207 $40,277 6.07%14.9%51.50%Least Safe36.95
96Memphis 656,715 3 $95,400 $1,211 $43,539 15.28%11.0%35.40%Least Safe36.92
97East Ridge 21,220 2 $116,700 $1,040 $50,144 14.33%14.9%13.80%Least Safe36.72
98Ripley 8,350 4 $84,200 $987 $25,036 -26.76%8.9%60.80%Least Safe36.40

Methodology

We analyzed 98 places in Tennessee with populations of 5,000 or more. Certain places were excluded due to lack of data points or requirements for residency. Our methodology focused on four factors:

Home affordability. Home affordability, 30% of the total score, was calculated by averaging index scores for median home value and median selected monthly owner costs — which includes costs like taxes and mortgages — for the year 2014. The lower the costs, the higher the score. Data came from the American Community Survey, a division of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Growth and prosperity. Growth and prosperity are 20% of the total score. The two metrics were growth in family income from 1999 to 2014, and median family income in 2014. Data are from the American Community Survey.

Family friendliness. To measure whether an area is a good place for families, which is 20% of our total score, we looked at the percentage of married couples with at least one child under age 18, the average crime score as provided by NeighborhoodScout, and the percentage of families in poverty with at least one child under age 5.

Educational quality. Using data from GreatSchools.org, every place was given a 1-10 score, with 10 being the highest (read more about the methodology here). Education is 30% of the total score.


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