The Ten Most (and Least) Affordable Cities to Buy a Home

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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