- The top 20 largest, highest-priced U.S. cities are prohibitive for most aspiring homebuyers: The median home price in Irvine, CA; San Francisco, CA and San Jose, CA is well above $1 million, while medians in Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY; Boston, MA and Washington, D.C. are far above $500,000.
- However, 603 of the 777 suburbs within a 30-mile driving distance of these red-hot markets have prices per square foot of living space below the main city’s median.
- In fact, in 11 suburbs, the price per square foot is 60% to 65% lower than in the city, while 67 suburbs have median prices 50% to 59% lower than in the city.
- The East Coast absolutely dominates when it comes to affordable suburbs: 95 of the top 100 most affordable suburbs are in New York; Washington, D.C.; Boston; and Miami.
- The suburbs that are more expensive than the main city are really expensive: In 18 suburbs, the price per square foot of living space is 109% to a dizzying 385% higher than in the city.
The prices of homes for sale in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York are famously unaffordable. So much so, in fact, that owning a home in these powerhouse cities is becoming an impossible dream.
Adding fuel to the fire, interest rates continue their climb, while dwindling inventory is making all aspiring homebuyers feel like unwilling participants in a game of musical chairs, forcing many home seekers to simply give up on their dreams to have a home of their own.
And, given how expensive these urban hubs are, any renter and potential buyer would be forgiven for thinking they need to move to another state to find something affordable. But, perhaps that’s not the case.
Enter the suburb.
With its more spacious homes and downright sprawling backyards, the suburb quickly became the answer to our growing space needs during the pandemic. Could it also be the answer to today’s buyers’ prayers for affordable housing?
According to our latest analysis, the answer is yes: The price per square foot of living space is lower in 603 of the 777 suburbs orbiting America’s 20 most expensive cities, with some suburbs boasting prices per square foot up to 65% lower compared to the main city. Thus, homebuyers willing to extend their home search to a 30-mile distance around their city of choice have a much better chance of finding not just a home, but the right home.
Largest Net Difference in Price per Square Foot Is in Novato, CA, ($401 Cheaper Than San Francisco), but Medley, FL Is 65% More Affordable Than Miami
The most expensive cities are on the East and West coasts, but East Coast residents clearly have more affordable suburbs to choose from.
Looking at the biggest percentage differences between prices in the main cities and those in the corresponding suburbs, it’s obvious that East Coast buyers are faring better: With only a few exceptions, the first 100 suburbs that have the most significant price difference compared to the main city are all on the East Coast.
Compared to Miami or New York City, the price per square foot of living space in Medley, FL; Emerson, NJ; Lodi, NJ or Mount Vernon, NY is 65% and 62% lower than the price in the city.
In fact, there are 11 suburbs where one square foot of space is significantly cheaper than in the city: Medley, FL; Emerson, NJ; Lodi, NJ; Mount Vernon, NY; Huntingtown, MD; Waldorf, MD; Moonachie, NJ; Boulevard Park, WA; Lawrence, MA; Passaic, NJ; and Paterson, NJ all have prices per square foot between 60% and 65% lower than the median price per square foot in their respective cities.
This means buyers willing to look for a home 30 miles from the city center might find something much more spacious, or much cheaper.
But, while it's true that the majority of suburbs (603) flaunt home prices lower than in the city, other suburbs give these expensive urban hubs a run for their money.
For example, in Sullivan's Island, a suburb near Charleston, SC, the price per square foot is $1,400, a mind-blowing 385% higher than the median price in the city, which is below $300.
This may have been the biggest price difference of all the suburbs included in our analysis, but 17 more suburbs are absolute kryptonite for the average homebuyer: Prices here are between 100% and 212% higher than in the city.
In Salt Lake City, 100% of Suburbs Within 30 Miles Are More Affordable Than the Core City
New York City and Washington, D.C. are close behind, with 98% and 97%, respectively, of their suburbs having much more affordable prices per square foot of space.
In some of the most desirable cities in the nation, the outlook is grim. Inflation and higher costs of living are affecting everyone, but the current financial conditions are simply bludgeoning home seekers.
However, suburbs may still provide the silver lining that all aspiring homebuyers are looking for. Given their extended freedom to move and relocate in this brand new era of remote work, home seekers could expand their search radius, so they can really start looking and stop compromising.
And, the place where homebuyers can do that most freely is Salt Lake City: All the suburbs close to Utah's capital have more affordable home prices than the main city.
The median home price in Salt Lake is $540,000, while the median price per square foot is $345. Depending on how much space they want and need, buyers might have to dish out a lot of money. Fortunately, they have plenty of other options: With prices per square foot ranging between $192 and $295, all the suburbs that are closest to SLC are more affordable.
Moving to the East Coast, New York City and Washington, D.C. come in second and third, respectively. Here, an impressive 98% and 97% of all the suburbs within a 30-mile driving distance are more affordable. Specifically, in New York, 85 of the 87 nearby suburbs are (far) more affordable than the city, with only Rye, NY and Hoboken, NJ being 12% and 36% more expensive than the city.
The same goes for Washington, D.C.: In 76 suburbs, the price per square foot of living space is much lower than in the city. That said, Bethesda and Chevy Chase are the only two exceptions: Buyers in the capital are paying around $500 per square foot, whereas home seekers focusing on these two suburbs are looking at medians of $510 and $542, respectively.
Rounding out the top five list of cities with the most affordable suburbs are Boston and Honolulu. Buyers looking for homes in Lawrence, MA could pay 60% (or $387) less for each square foot of space compared to the city. Meanwhile, in Hawaii, it's the buyers willing to move to Wahiawa who will feel the biggest difference: The median price per square foot here is 36% (or $265) lower than in the main city.
At the other end of the spectrum, San Jose, CA and Charleston, SC have the fewest affordable suburbs: Only 32% and 41% of all their suburbs cater to the needs of cash-strapped buyers.
Likewise, in San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento, the shares of affordable suburbs within a 30 miles driving distance is slightly higher, but just barely: A little more than half of the more easily reachable suburbs here have lower prices per square foot than homes for sale in the main city.
Here again, this side of the ranking is dominated by expensive cities on the West Coast, while the most expensive markets on the East Coast have many more affordable near-by suburbs.
Check out the share of suburbs with lower prices per square foot of living space close to all the 20 cities included in our analysis:
Different people have different opinions when it comes to the suburb. Whether they are organic developments or artificial creations, suburbs are urban extensions that are seen as affordable "bedroom communities", emblems of urban sprawl or, on the contrary, enclaves of luxury and status.
But, for home seekers and aspiring homebuyers, a suburb's appeal comes from its more affordable housing options, promise of more space and more privacy. And, at a time when affordability is truly becoming a keyword in homebuyers' vocabulary, these affordable suburbs might make the difference between fulfilling one's homeownership dreams or simply continuing to hope.
Update 5.18.2023: Warrenton, VA, a suburb of Washington, D.C. is 48 miles away from city center. At the time of the analysis, the mapping app (Smappen) included it in the targeted area (20-mile radius or 30-mile driving distance), as it takes into consideration routes that may be blocked by temporary road work and checks for alternative routes, therefore expanding the search radius.
- For this study, we looked at the 20 most populous and most expensive U.S. cities: Irvine, CA; San Francisco, CA; San Jose, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Oakland, CA; San Diego, CA; New York, NY; Seattle, WA; Boston, MA; Washington, D.C.; Honolulu, HI; Riverside, CA; Denver, CO; Miami, FL; Salt Lake City, UT; Austin, TX; Charleston, SC; Portland, OR; Boise, ID; and Sacramento, CA.
- Ranking of the 20 cities was based on population and the latest available home price data, per local MLSs.
- We mapped all the suburbs within a 20-mile circle radius, or 30-mile driving distance from the city center, resulting in 777 suburbs belonging to the 20 cities.
- We then looked at median home prices and prices per square foot in the 20 cities included in the analysis and the 777 suburbs. All price data based on Redfin.com, Realtor.com and local MLS full residential price data.
- To discover and rank the most affordable U.S. suburbs near the most expensive cities, we compared the price per square foot in those suburbs to the price per square foot in the city. We then calculated the net and percentage differences between the suburb and the main city.
We encourage and freely grant you permission to reuse, host, or repost the story in this article. When doing so, we only ask that you kindly attribute the authors by linking to Point2Homes.com or this page so that your readers can learn more about this project, the research behind it and its methodology.