Best Places for Homeownership in Pennsylvania

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Written by Tom Dunlap

Pennsylvania saw increasing home prices statewide over the past year, while new construction permits jumped in the central part of the state, according to researchers at Wells Fargo. Pittsburgh saw a record increase in the number of multifamily homes built last year, as construction payrolls in the state’s second-largest city neared the highest pre-recession rates, the report found.

In another sign of the state’s recovery, jobs are picking up: Pennsylvania gained 34,400 jobs over the past year, and unemployment dropped from 7.6% to 5.7%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Personal income in the state, officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, increased 2% from 2012 to 2013, to a per capita personal income of $45,926, a report by the Bureau of Economic Analysis found.

For interested homebuyers, many agencies across the state are certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as approved housing counseling agencies. These agencies, such as the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, can help homeowners navigate the process of buying a home.

NerdWallet crunched the numbers to find the best places for homeownership in Pennsylvania. Here’s what the best cities have in common:

  • Home values were under $250,000 in all but one of the top 10 places.
  • In eight of the top 10 places, homeowners spent less than 30% of their median monthly household income on their homes, which meets the standard of affordability set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Seven of the 10 places are within commuting distance to Pittsburgh.
  • Many of the best places for homeownership were also among NerdWallet’s best places for job seekers in Pennsylvania.
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NerdWallet’s analysis to find the best places for homeownership in Pennsylvania 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 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 this study. For a full ranking of all 89 places and to download the raw data, click here.

Best Places for Homeownership in Pennsylvania 

1. Mountain Top

Mountain Top is a census-designated place in central Pennsylvania that stretches across parts of three townships — Fairview Township, Wright Township and Rice Township. Mountain Top saw its population grow 3.5% from 2010 to 2012, making it one of the fastest-growing places on our list. To make new residents feel at home, the Mountain Top Welcome Club connects new residents with longtime locals through groups such as book clubs and preschool playgroups. Mountain Top is near Wilkes-Barre, which is part of the Wilkes-Barre and Scranton Metropolitan Area in the northeastern part of the state.

2. Franklin Park 

The homeownership rate in Franklin Park is 95.7%, the highest on our list. Franklin Park is a borough in the North Hills area, northwest of Pittsburgh. Census figures show that 30.7% of residents here hold a graduate degree while 36% have a bachelor’s. Many of Franklin Park’s residents commute to the region’s businesses, universities and hospitals.

 3. Jefferson Hills

Jefferson Hills is a borough in Allegheny County, south of Pittsburgh. Homeowners in this growing community spend just 24.7% of their monthly household income on monthly mortgage and utility costs. Jefferson Hills is home to two trails, the Montour Trail and Steel Valley Trail, that are part of the Great Allegheny Passage.

4. Weigelstown 

Weigelstown is a census-designated place in the south-central region of the state, less than 10 miles from York in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The median price for a home is $149,100 in Weigelstown, where the population increased 2.1% from 2010 to 2012. Many Weigelstown residents commute to York’s jobs in public administration, health care, tourism and manufacturing.

5. Murrysville

Murrysville, less than 20 miles east of Pittsburgh in Westmoreland County, has a median home value of $208,000, and homeowner costs here take up just 23.7% of the median monthly household income. Murrysville is the home of the Haymaker Gas Well, the country’s first commercial natural gas well drilled in 1878.

 6. Plum

Plum is a borough in Allegheny County, where 80.5% of residents own their home. Plum traces its origins to 1788, and it was a township until 1956. The Oakmont Country Club, located mostly in Plum, is one of the nation’s top golf courses and has hosted the U.S. Open eight times, the most of any course. Each year, residents gather for the Plum Community Festival, which features live music, an antique car show and food vendors.

7. Baldwin Borough

Baldwin Borough is another affordable place in the greater Pittsburgh area. Homeowners here pay just $1,247 a month for their mortgage and utility costs, which is one of the lowest amounts on our list. The median home value here is $110,800, also among the lowest on our list.

8. Hershey

Hershey’s population grew by 6.2% from 2010 to 2012, making it the fastest-growing area on our list. Hershey, a census-designated place in Dauphin County, was named after the famed chocolate maker Milton S. Hershey. The area is home to Hersheypark, which features 12 roller coasters and over 65 rides and attractions.

9. Upper St. Clair

In Upper St. Clair, a township 10 miles south of Pittsburgh, the median home value is $246,800, the second highest on our list, and the homeownership rate is 91.4%. The township features an award-winning school district and recreational opportunities.

10. Bethel Park

In Bethel Park, a municipality in Pittsburgh’s south hills, homeowners pay 25.9% of their monthly household income on housing costs. Bethel Park is home to South Park, a 2,013-acre park that features golf courses, an ice-skating rink, BMX track, a wave pool and a martial arts center.

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
1 Mountain Top Wilkes-Barre 88.6% $1,669 $6,314 26.4% $190,000 3.5% 78.0
2 Franklin Park Pittsburgh 95.7% $2,311 $9,486 24.4% $290,700 3.7% 76.1
3 Jefferson Hills Pittsburgh 83.4% $1,630 $6,605 24.7% $175,900 2.9% 75.0
4 Weigelstown York 82.2% $1,412 $4,510 31.3% $149,100 2.1% 71.6
5 Murrysville Pittsburgh 89.0% $1,722 $7,259 23.7% $208,000 1.1% 69.6
6 Plum Pittsburgh 80.5% $1,464 $5,600 26.1% $137,200 1.1% 69.4
7 Baldwin Borough Pittsburgh 76.7% $1,247 $4,273 29.2% $110,800 0.5% 66.5
8 Hershey Harrisburg 54.3% $1,807 $4,575 39.5% $243,800 6.2% 65.7
9 Upper St. Clair Pittsburgh 91.4% $2,010 $9,031 22.3% $246,800 0.2% 65.6
10 Bethel Park Pittsburgh 80.5% $1,470 $5,681 25.9% $154,800 0.1% 65.0
11 South Park Township Pittsburgh 79.3% $1,479 $5,464 27.1% $142,600 0.0% 64.6
12 Hermitage Youngstown, Ohio 71.6% $1,211 $4,196 28.9% $126,000 0.6% 63.7
13 West Mifflin Pittsburgh 76.3% $1,101 $3,851 28.6% $86,600 -0.8% 63.4
14 Levittown Philadelphia 86.9% $1,751 $5,523 31.7% $233,900 0.3% 62.2
15 Croydon Philadelphia 71.6% $1,564 $4,804 32.6% $208,400 1.7% 61.5
16 Whitehall Allentown 73.2% $1,356 $4,372 31.0% $135,800 0.1% 61.5
17 Horsham Philadelphia 73.5% $1,866 $5,401 34.5% $265,600 2.4% 61.0
18 Monroeville Pittsburgh 66.7% $1,318 $5,005 26.3% $126,200 0.0% 60.3
19 Lower Burrell Pittsburgh 77.8% $1,130 $4,032 28.0% $129,400 -1.2% 60.3
20 St. Marys State College 77.9% $1,051 $4,035 26.0% $112,700 -1.7% 60.2

To view the full ranking of all 89 places and download the data, click here.

Methodology

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 2012made 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: Doug Kerr/Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/8mvLgW