After years of weak housing markets, home sellers are hopeful that this spring’s home-buying season will finally lift prices. In positive news, RealtyTrac reported in March that national foreclosures fell to their lowest levels in five years. Unfortunately, the number of homes that received first-time foreclosure notices also rose 7% in March from the previous month, the third consecutive increase this year.
Like national housing data, the cost to buy a home varies considerably across the country. Working with online real estate listing database Realtor.com, 24/7 Wall St. identified the housing markets with the highest and lowest prices per square foot.
In general, the cities with the lowest real estate prices per square foot were cities that have suffered from poor economic conditions for some time. Many of these cities have begun to see interest from potential homeowners and investors. Others, however, continue to flounder.
The cities with high costs per square foot, for the most part, have wealthier residents. Five of the 10 most expensive cities are also in the top 10 for median income. Five of the least expensive are in the bottom 20 for median income.
Not surprisingly, Detroit’s cost per square foot of $62.45 was the lowest. San Francisco’s cost per square foot of $420.99 was the highest.
A few of the markets with the lowest prices per square feet experienced large declines in home values during the recession. For the most part, however, these are former industrial centers that have been on the decline for years. They include Detroit, Toledo and Wichita.
As would be expected, the cities with the highest and lowest costs per square foot also have the highest and lowest overall median home prices, respectively. Nine of the 10 metro regions with the lowest cost per square foot are among the 15 regions with the lowest median listing price.
24/7 Wall St. relied on Realtor.com’s February figures for the 146 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the country for median listing price and median square footage to calculate the median price per square foot for each MSA. Realtor.com also provided the number of available listings and the number of online property searches for each MSA in February.
Cities with the Lowest Prices per Square Foot
10. Atlanta, Ga.
> Price per sq. ft.: $74.19
> Median list price: $154,900 (40th lowest)
> Median square feet: 2,088 (14th highest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 7
Atlanta is a key example of a metropolitan region that has started to reverse the direction of its housing market in just a few short months. Homes in the region were the seventh most-searched for in the country in February. Between February 2010 and February 2011, home prices in the area fell 13.89%, the eighth-biggest decline among the 146 metropolitan regions examined. In the past month alone, however, the median list price has jumped 3.27%, the seventh-largest increase. Housing inventory in the region has fallen by nearly 40% in the past year. Still, Atlanta has among the cheapest real estate in the country, with a median price of $74.19 per square foot.
9. Macon, Ga.
> Price per sq. ft.: $72.77
> Median list price: $134,625 (14th lowest)
> Median square feet: 1,850 (38th highest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 126th
The median price per square foot of $72.77 in Macon is the ninth-cheapest among the 146 major metropolitan regions examined. The median home size in the area is 1,850 square feet, which is larger than most. Unlike Atlanta, however, the city is not a popular destination. Macon is one of the poorest major metropolitan regions in the country, with 23.2% of residents living below the poverty line. Exports fell by more than 60% between 2005 and 2010, and the region’s 9.9% unemployment rate in January was amongst the highest in the country. Real estate in the region was the 20th least-searched-for in the U.S. in February. Median list prices fell slightly during the past year, while the number of properties on the market increased by 1.49%.
8. Las Vegas, Nev.
> Price per sq. ft.: $71.75
> Median list price: $122,900 (6th lowest)
> Median square feet: 1,713 (61st lowest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 10th
Before the housing crisis hit, property values in Las Vegas skyrocketed as the city experienced a period of rapid growth. However, when the real estate market collapsed, home values plummeted an astounding 60.4% — the second-biggest decline in the U.S. As a result, listed properties in the region are among the cheapest in the country. The median list price of $122,900 is the sixth-lowest in the country. The Las Vegas metropolitan region was the 10th-most popular destination for those searching online for property, perhaps indicative of possible turn around for the area. Median list price increased by 1.15% between January and February of this year.
7. Dayton-Springfield, Ohio
> Price per sq. ft.: $71.07
> Median list price: $104,900 (5th lowest)
> Median square feet: 1,476 (11th lowest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 69th
Dayton was once a major American hub of innovation and manufacturing, generating more patents per capita than any other American city. Unfortunately, manufacturing decline has hurt the city’s fortunes. Several of the big auto manufacturing plants that drove the region’s economy have left. In the past year, the value of exports produced in the region has fallen by nearly 60%, while unemployment remains above the national average. Home prices have continued to suffer in the region. The Dayton-Springfield region has a median list price of just $104,900, the fifth-lowest among the 146 areas examined by Realtor.com. However, people are searching for property in the region, as prices increased by more than 5% in the past year.
6. South Bend, Ind.
> Price per sq. ft.: $69.17
> Median list price: $98,500 (2nd lowest)
> Median square feet: 1,424 (6th lowest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 134th
South Bend has the second lowest median list price in the country of the 146 metropolitan regions. However, living space is also very small, with the average property measuring just 1,424 square feet. South Bend remains an undesirable location to live. The northern Indiana metro region has the 22nd-highest unemployment rate in the country among the same regions. Export values fell by nearly 50% between 2005 and 2010, and median income is the 14th lowest in the country. The undesirable environment has left South Bend real estate largely untouched. It was is the 13th least-searched-for city on Realtor.com’s list, and one of just 24 to experience a decline in median list prices in the past year.
Continue reading America’s most affordable cities to buy a home.
5. Wichita, Kan.
> Price per sq. ft.: $69.04
> Median list price: $129,900 (11th lowest)
> Median square feet: 1,882 (29th highest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 96th
The median square footage of a listed Wichita property is 1,882, the 29th largest in the country. The median list price, however, is just $129,900, the 11th-lowest price in the U.S. During the recession, home values dropped just 2%, one of the smallest declines in the country. The unemployment rate in the region is 7.7%, well below the national average. Nevertheless, property remains extremely cheap in the region. There has been some interest in Wichita real estate. It ranks in the middle of Realtor.com’s measure of the most searched-for real estate markets, and home prices climbed by more than 3% between February 2011 and February 2012.
4. Indianapolis, Ind.
> Price per sq. ft.: $68.56
> Median list price: $133,000 (13th lowest)
> Median square feet: 1,940 (21st highest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 55th
Properties in the Indianapolis metropolitan region are among the largest in the country at a median 1,940 square feet. However, the median listing price in the area, according to Realtor.com, is just $133,000, the 13th lowest in the U.S. These low costs, along with better-than-average unemployment, have led to some increased interest in the city’s real estate. Median list prices climbed 6.4% in the past recorded year, and inventory fell by more than 18% over the same period.
3. Toledo, Ohio
> Price per sq. ft.: $67.02
> Median list price: $100,000 (3rd lowest)
> Median square feet: 1,488 (13th lowest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 117th
Like Dayton, Toledo was once one of America’s largest industrial centers and has fallen on hard times in the past several decades. Poverty and unemployment are both extremely high in the region. Median income is the 14th lowest among the cities on our list. Median property listings are just $100,000 in the region, according to Realtor.com. This is the third-lowest price in the country, amounting to $67.02 per square foot. Nevertheless, there has not been much interest in Toledo property, as it ranks 117th out of 146 on Realtor.com’s most-searched-for list. Median list prices fell by 4.31% between January and February of this year, the second-biggest decline among the regions examined.
2. Fort Wayne, Ind.
> Price per sq. ft.: $66.03
> Median list price: $104,900 (4th lowest)
> Median square feet: 1,580 (24th lowest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 76th
Property costs, according to Realtor.com, are the second-lowest in the country in Fort Wayne at $66.03 per square foot. Prices, however, have begun to recover in the region. Between February 2011 and February 2012, the median list price increased by more than 5%. However, in the past recorded month, property values fell by 2.78%, the fourth-worst decline in the country among the 146 regions studied.
1. Detroit, Mich.
> Price per sq. ft.: $62.45
> Median list price: $84,900 (the lowest)
> Median square feet: 1,360 (5th lowest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 2nd
Detroit was one of the hardest-hit cities by the recession. The city had already been undergoing several decades of severe economic drought. Home prices still fell by 54.9% from their prerecession peak. The city’s unemployment rate has declined in the past year, but it remains in the double-digit range and is still among the worst among major U.S. cities. Apparently, however, speculators see a silver lining in the Motor City, or at the very least, a bottom in the housing market. In February, only one city (Chicago) among the 146 measured by Realtor.com, had more searches for property than Detroit. This may have something to do with the fact that the median list price in the region was just $84,900 in February, or $13,600 less than the next-highest city.
Cities with the Highest Prices per Square Foot
10. Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif.
> Price per sq. ft.: $221.09
> Median list price: $325,000 (15th highest)
> Median square feet: 1,470 (10th lowest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 3rd
According to Realtor.com’s search ranking, the Los Angeles metropolitan area was the third-most popular real estate search destination in the country in February. However, this may have more to do with the size of the market (L.A. has the third-most listings) than it being an especially desirable location for home buyers. In fact, median list prices fell by 4.13% over the past year, the fifth-most among the 146 markets studied. Los Angeles has a median list price of $325,000, the 15th highest in the country. The median square footage is 1,470, the tenth-smallest in the U.S.
9. Ventura, Calif.
> Price per sq. ft.: $227.22
> Median list price: $399,900 (6th highest)
> Median square feet: 1,760 (68th highest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 59th
Ventura has the sixth-highest median list price in the country. Interest in the region has grown substantially in the past year. The number of listings dropped more than 20% between February 2011 and February 2012. Ventura is one of the few large metro areas in which the median age of the properties for sale has gone up in the past years. The region is also one of the wealthiest in the country, with a median income of $71,864, the fifth-highest of the 146 regions Realtor.com collects data on.
8. Orange County, Calif.
> Price per sq. ft.: $271.22
> Median list price: $425,000 (5th highest)
> Median square feet: 1,567 (22nd lowest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 16th
Like the vast majority of the country, the median age of property available for sale in Orange County, Calif., has decreased in the past year. However, the aging has been slight compared to most of the country’s largest markets. Between February 2011 and February 2012, median inventory age fell by just 3.3%, the seventh-smallest decline. By comparison, the median age in Oakland fell more than 40%. Real estate in the region was among the most searched-for in the country in February, with a Realtor.com search rank of 16. By comparison, the region has the 22nd-most total listings.
7. New York, N.Y.
> Price per sq. ft.: $288.58
> Median list price: $389,000 (8th highest)
> Median square feet: 1,348 (5th lowest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 29th
The median size of real estate in the New York metropolitan region is just 1,348 square feet. This is the fourth-smallest space of any of the 146 areas studied. Median list price is $389,000, the eighth-highest in the country. Recently, housing has only become more expensive in New York. Prices went up by 2.4% between January and February of this year — the 18th-largest increase among the 146 areas examined. This increase is impressive considering the number of available apartments has only declined by 0.18% over the past year, the smallest decrease in the country.
6. Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Lompoc, Calif.
> Price per sq. ft.: $290.64
> Median list price: $499,900 (2nd highest)
> Median square feet: 1,720 (64th lowest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 90th
During the recession, Santa Barbara lost 8% of its workforce, largely due to the declining construction industry. According to IHS Global Insight, the region will only have recovered 1.9% of those lost jobs by the fourth quarter of this year. Santa Barbara has a median home list price of just under half a million dollars, the second highest price in the country. Despite all of these factors, property values have shot up in the region by 11.11% in the most recently recorded 12-month period, one of the largest increases of any major housing market in the country.
Read America’s least affordable cities to buy a home.
5. Jersey City, N.J.
> Price per sq. ft.: $299.90
> Median list price: $299,900 (22nd highest)
> Median square feet: 1,000 (the lowest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 119th
Cost per square foot in the Jersey City area is the fifth-highest in the country. The reason for this is that while median list price is just shy of $300,000, the average size of listed properties is only 1,000 square feet — the lowest among the largest housing markets examined. Demand for homes and apartments in the city has been extremely limited. The region’s Realtor.com search rank is 119, which is the 28th lowest among the 146 markets examined.
4. San Jose, Calif.
> Price per sq. ft.: $315.96
> Median list price: $468,888 (3rd highest)
> Median square feet: 1,484 (12th lowest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 60th
San Jose’s unemployment rate in January 2011 was 10.8%. By January of 2012, the unemployment rate had dropped to 9.1%. While unemployment in San Jose is still above the national average, the improvement was one of the biggest among the country’s major housing markets. That recovery in the region’s economy is reflected in housing demand and prices. Median list prices in the past 12 recorded months jumped by 7.9%. Between January and February alone, those prices increased by 4.2%, the largest growth in the country during that time.
3. Washington, D.C.
> Price per sq. ft.: $372.11
> Median list price: $384,950 (9th highest)
> Median square feet: 1,034.5 (3rd lowest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 86th
Washington, D.C., has had a major period of housing price growth in the past year. The median value of listed properties in the capital region increased by 4.17% between January and February alone, the second-largest increase in the country. Over the past 12 months, prices have gone up by an astounding 18.45%. During the recession, the region lost only a small percentage of its jobs and is projected to recover nearly three-quarters of the lost positions by the end of this year.
2. Honolulu, Hawaii
> Price per sq. ft.: $381.03
> Median list price: $450,000 (4th highest)
> Median square feet: 1,181 (4th lowest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 120th
The unemployment rate in Honolulu, Hawaii, is just 5.7%, which is well below nearly every other major housing market in the U.S. The Hawaiian capital has a median list price of $450,000, the fourth highest in the country. Median list prices have increased by 7.14% over the past 12 recorded months and have been flat in the past month. The number of homes available on the market has fallen sharply, which has helped keep prices high. Between February 2011 and February 2012, the total number of listed properties fell by 13.8%.
1. San Francisco, Calif.
> Price per sq. ft.: $420.99
> Median list price: $611,700 (the highest)
> Median square feet: 1,453 (9th lowest)
> Search rank (out of 146): 45th
Of the 146 housing markets examined by Realtor.com, there are none as competitive — or expensive — as San Francisco’s. Median price of listed properties in the area is an astounding $611,700, which is more than $100,000 greater than the next-most expensive region, Santa Barbara. Median list price was up by 3.77% between January and February, the fifth-largest increase in the U.S. While San Francisco’s housing market is only the 92nd largest, it was the 45th most popular real estate search in February.
Michael B. Sauter
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