These 20 'desirable' US counties are still affordable, study finds

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(NEXSTAR) – With the way the real estate has been going over the past few years, it can feel like everywhere in the U.S. is unaffordable. But according to a recent analysis by MoneyGeek, that’s not exactly the case.

Yes, it’s true that more and more cities are becoming unaffordable for would-be homebuyers. But there are still some areas of the country where home prices are within reach of the average family.

MoneyGeek assembled a list of 20 growing counties where the cost of owning a home wasn’t outrageous for the area’s median income. To qualify for the list, the estimated monthly home ownership cost – including mortgage, property taxes, insurance, etc. – had to be under 50% of the monthly median income. That means the average county resident buying the average-priced house would be spending anywhere from 34% to 49% of their income on housing costs.

Where can you get away with that in this economy? One region dominates the list in particular: 13 of the 20 counties identified were in the Southeast, the study found.

MoneyGeek’s list of 20 most affordable and desirable counties is below:

County Nearby metro area Median income Median home price
1 Clayton County, Georgia Greater Atlanta $30,502 $185,811
2 Cumberland County, Pennsylvania Greater Harrisburg $40,909 $257,744
3 Lexington County, South Carolina Columbia $36,899 $206,726
4 Madison County, Alabama Huntsville $38,327 $263,726
5 Marion County, Florida Ocala $30,606 $218,548
6 Hidalgo County, Texas McAllen $22,506 $112,030
7 Oklahoma County, Oklahoma Oklahoma City $35,151 $200,321
8 Benton County, Arkansas Greater Fayetteville $37,496 $270,864
9 Escambia County, Florida Greater Pensacola $30,751 $228,537
10 Tulsa County, Oklahoma Tulsa $34,896 $205,364
11 Spartanburg County, South Carolina Spartanburg $32,398 $205,940
12 St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana Greater New Orleans $37,211 $271,488
13 Pasco County, Florida Greater Tampa $34,974 $261,644
14 Lubbock County, Texas Lubbock $29,179 $186,302
15 Forsyth County, North Carolina Winston-Salem $31,769 $215,172
16 Douglas County, Nebraska Greater Omaha $39,918 $231,908
17 Greenville County, South Carolina Greater Greenville $35,725 $268,888
18 Richland County, South Carolina Columbia $30,753 $215,917
19 Webb County, Texas Laredo $27,185 $163,199
20 Knox County, Tennessee Knoxville $34,383 $270,117
MoneyGeek’s ranking of affordable U.S. counties that area also desirable places to live.

MoneyGeek deemed these counties still “desirable” because their populations are growing faster than the national average and their home values are still appreciating. The analysis also left out especially small or sparsely populated counties – all of those included have populations larger than 250,000, making them reasonably sized metro areas.

These 20 counties are the exception, however. Many major metro areas have grown unaffordable to the average buyer.

What’s been driving sky-high housing prices? It’s complex, MoneyGeek’s analysts said. “The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated labor shortages and supply chain delays, which led to slower residential home construction. As a result, home prices skyrocketed, leading to higher mortgage payments and home insurance costs on newly purchased properties.”

The increase in remote work also led more people to seek big homes in smaller cities, driving up home prices in places that weren’t as popular before the pandemic.

There are signs things are slowing down when compared to the last few years. Higher borrowing rates have pumped the brakes on the housing market, forcing potential homebuyers to the sidelines. Mortgage applications have declined 20% from last year and refinancings are down 80%, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Those trends are expected to continue with more Fed rate increases a near certainty.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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