By Tom Dunlap
If you’re thinking about buying a home, Wisconsin is a great place to consider. The Badger State is showing strong signs of growth: it added 47,500 jobs from May 2013 to May 2014, and its unemployment rate continues to trend downward, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The fastest-growing occupations in the state are in construction trades and healthcare, and the state’s workforce development centers offer training for workers of all ages to enter a new and growing field. Also, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, more people migrated to the state than left in 2012.
For potential homebuyers, the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority works with lenders, developers, local government agencies, nonprofits and community groups to implement low-cost financing programs. In addition, the Wisconsin Partnership for Housing Development provides down payment assistance and housing counseling.
NerdWallet crunched the numbers for all 85 cities in Wisconsin with more than 10,000 residents to find the best places in Wisconsin for homeownership. Here’s what the top places have in common:
- Home values were under $250,000 in all but four places on our top 20 list.
- In 14 of the top 20 places, homeowners spent less than 30% of their median household income on their homes, which meets the standard of affordability set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
- 12 of the top 20 places are located in the southern region of the state, closest to Milwaukee and Madison.
NerdWallet’s analysis to find the best places for homeownership in Wisconsin answers three questions:
1. Are homes available? We looked at the area’s homeownership rate to determine the availability of homes. A low homeownership rate is likely a signal of competitive inventory, more options for renters rather than buyers and expensive housing. Areas with a high homeownership rate led to a higher overall score.
2. Can you afford to live there? We looked at median household income, monthly homeowner costs and median home value to assess affordability and determine whether residents could live comfortably in the area. We used monthly homeowner costs to measure cost of living. Areas with high median incomes and a low cost of living scored higher.
3. Is the area growing? We measured population growth to ensure that the area is attracting new residents and showing signs of solid growth. This is likely a signal of a robust local economy, which is another attractive characteristic for homebuyers.
For more details on our methodology, see the section at the end of the report.
To view the full ranking of all 85 cities evaluated for this study and to download the data, click here.
Top 10 Best Cities for Homeownership in Wisconsin
Suamico, located just 10 miles north of Green Bay, is one of the most affordable places on our list, with homeowner costs taking up just 24.2% of the median household income. The area also experienced a strong 4% growth in population from 2010 to 2012. Winona Foods and DCI Cheese Company are two of the biggest employers in Suamico, and residents have more job opportunities in nearby Green Bay. Suamico Elementary School was awarded a 2013 Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education for its high performance in reading and math testing.
With a 6% population growth rate from 2010 to 2012, Verona, a Madison suburb, is the fastest-growing place on our list. The area is also affordable, with a median home value of $241,200. Verona is the headquarters of Epic, a medical information systems company. Since the city is close to the state capital, many Verona residents work in state government and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the largest university in the state.
Howard, the second Green Bay suburb in our top 10, earned a high rank for its strong population growth and home affordability. The population in Howard grew 5% from 2010 to 2012, and the median home value is $174,900. Of the 21 parks in the area, one of them, Memorial Park, is the start of the Mountain-Bay Trail, an 83-mile trail in northeastern Wisconsin. Howard has a vibrant economic development plan, which emphasizes the city’s access to multiple U.S. and state highway interchanges.
Waunakee, about 12 miles northwest of the state capital, is another suburb of Madison. Even though Waunakee is one of the more expensive places on our list, the village has a homeownership rate of 76%, and its population grew 5.1% from 2010 to 2012. The village features a 160-acre business park development, the Waunakee Business Park, which is home to businesses including Uniek, a picture frame and home décor design company, Marshall Erdmann & Associates, a healthcare real estate firm, and Madison Freight Systems Inc., a freight hauling company.
Franklin, a suburb of Milwaukee, is affordable, with homeowner costs taking 29.4% of median household income. Franklin’s top employers include Northwestern Mutual and Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare. As well, the South 27th Street Corridor, an economic development partnership between the cities of Franklin and Oak Creek, is estimated to bring $2 billion in economic growth to the area.
6. Pleasant Prairie
The village, located between Milwaukee and Chicago, is a popular place for homeowners, with 81.4% of homes occupied by owners rather than renters. The area is known for Prairie Springs Park and Lake Andrea, which host events such as the Prairie Family Days and the Pleasant Prairie Triathlon. The park also features the RecPlex, which describes itself as the largest municipal recreation facility in the U.S.
7. Sun Prairie
Sun Prairie, the third Madison suburb on our list, saw its population increase 5.3% from 2010 to 2012. The city, which has a median home value of $209,600, is near major attractions, including the Wisconsin Dells, House on the Rock, Cave of the Mounds and Old World Wisconsin. The Sun Prairie Area School District educates over 7,000 students and opened a $95 million high school in 2010. Sun Prairie was the fourth-best city for Wisconsin job seekers in a NerdWallet study conducted earlier this year.
Onalaska sits on the western edge of Wisconsin, on the border with Minnesota and on the shores of Lake Onalaska. The median home value of $164,900 is among the lowest on our list. At 4 miles across, Lake Onalaska is the widest point on the mighty Mississippi River. The lake offers an abundance of recreational activities, including kayaking, fishing, waterskiing, bird-watching and places to picnic on the beach. Onalaska High School earned the 10th highest score in the state in 2013 on a “report card” of student progress by Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction. The city was also named the third-best city in Wisconsin for job seekers in a NerdWallet study conducted in January 2014.
Kaukauna is one of the most affordable places on our list. Its median home value is $137,900, the lowest in our top 10 list, and monthly homeowner costs take up just 28.6% of median monthly household income. One of the biggest employers in Kaukauna is Expera Specialty Solutions, a paper company established in 1883.
Pewaukee is about 18 miles east of Milwaukee in southeastern Wisconsin. The city has the second-highest homeownership rate, 84.2%, in our top 10, and its population grew 2.4% from 2010 to 2012. Harken Inc., a sailboat gear manufacturer, is headquartered in Pewaukee. The Pewaukee School District has twice received the Wisconsin Forward Award at the mastery level and once at the excellence level.
|Rank||City||Nearest Big City||Home Ownership Rate||Median Selected Monthly Homeowner Costs||Median Monthly Household Income||Homeowner Costs as a Percentage of Household Income||Median Home Values||2010-2012 Population Growth||Overall Score for Home Owners|
|18||Hudson||St. Paul, Minn.||65.6%||$1,687||$5,069||33.3%||$211,700||3.2%||57.1|
To view the full ranking of all 85 cities analyzed for this study and to download the data, click here.
The overall score for each city was derived from each of these measures:
1. Homeownership rate made up 33.3% of the total score. A higher rate earned a higher score. The rate comes from the U.S. Census American Community Survey 5-year Estimates for all places in the state, Table DP 04.
2. Selected monthly owner costs as a percentage of median household income made up 16.7% of the total score. A lower percentage earned a higher score. Monthly homeowner costs as a percentage of median household income made up one-half of the affordability score. Median household income comes from the U.S. Census American Community Survey 5-year Estimates for all places in the state, Table DP 03. The figure for monthly homeowner costs comes from the U.S. Census American Community Survey 5-year Estimates for all places in the state, Table DP 04.
3. Median home value made up 16.7% of the total score. A lower value earned a higher score. Median home value made up one-half of the affordability score. Median home value comes from the U.S. Census American Community Survey 5-year Estimates for all places in the state, Table DP 04.
4. Population change from 2010 to 2012 made up 33.3% of the total score. A higher percent change earned a higher score. The 2010 population comes from the 2010 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates for all places in the state, Table DP 05. The 2012 population data comes from the 2012 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates for all places in the state, Table DP 05. NerdWallet calculated the percent change.
Only places with 10,000 or more residents were included in the study.
Image: Randen Pederson/Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/6MUAUj