The end of March marked the beginning of a new era in home prices: After a whopping 26.5% year-over-year jump, the median listing price landed at $405,000. Also on the rise is the average square footage of new single-family homes. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the pandemic reversed the previously downward trend in home size: The average square footage for new single-family homes increased to 2,561.
Existing homes, however, cannot grow in size to accommodate their owners’ growing needs. That’s why homebuyers looking for their dream home have to choose wisely. And, with remote work becoming more widely accepted, many have the chance to do just that by finding a place that offers more space.
So where in the U.S. do you get the most and least space for the new median home price? To answer this question, we looked at how many square feet $400,000 would buy in the nation’s 100 most populous cities:
- Detroit, MI and Cleveland, OH are in a league of their own, with both cities boasting more than 5,000 square feet for the national median.
- Toledo, OH is hot on their heels, with an equally impressive 4,444 square feet for $400,000.
- In the top 10 markets with the most expensive square footage in the nation, the median home price buys less than 600 square feet, with six of these cities offering less than 500 and Manhattan unsurprisingly coming in last with a meager 267 square feet.
- At $1,500 and $1,000, respectively, Manhattan and San Francisco have the highest costs per square foot. At the other end of the affordability spectrum, the median price per square foot in Detroit, Cleveland, and Toledo is less than $100.
Space & the City: Buyers Opting for the Most Expensive Cities Will Probably Be Relegated to Condos
Very small condos, that is. Manhattan, NY takes the cake with the least space for $400,000: This eye-watering amount will only secure a meager 267 square feet of living space in one of the most sought-after places in the U.S. San Francisco follows at a distance, with a more decent 400 square feet of residential space. Four other cities also have such high costs per square foot that the space $400,000 buys is less than 500 square feet: New York City, NY; Brooklyn, NY; Boston, MA and Fremont, CA.
The cities that complete the infamous top 10 list of places with the least amount of space for the median price boast just slightly more space than the previous six: In San Jose, CA; Honolulu, HI; Irvine, CA; and San Diego, CA, buyers could afford between 500 and 600 square feet of living space, on average, if they had $400,000 at their disposal.
Among the 25 markets that offer the least amount of space for the median home price, four cities treat homebuyers less harshly: In Miami, FL; Denver, CO; Riverside, CA and The Bronx, NY, home seekers could get a little more than 1,000 square feet — or almost four times space they could get in Manhattan.
But maybe they don’t want to. Although most people know that desirable urban hubs and sprawling living space don’t mix (and many are still willing to accept that compromise) many others want to find out just how green the grass can be on the other side — the suburban side. Recent research suggests that big cities might be falling from grace, with owners who work from home willing to relocate in order to get more bang for their buck. The Pew Research Center stated in a report that Americans were increasingly less likely to opt for the hustle and bustle of the big city:
“About one-in-five U.S. adults now express a preference for living in a city, down from about a quarter in 2018. The share of Americans who would like to live in the suburbs has increased from 42% to 46% during this time […]”
From 2,500 to Almost 6,000 Square Feet, Some Large U.S. Cities Are Much More Generous with Their Residential Space
With the lowest cost per square foot of the 100 largest U.S. cities, Detroit offers the most space for $400,000. The only other city that comes close to this feat is Cleveland, OH: Both Cleveland and Detroit offer potential buyers a sprawling 5,000+ square feet of living space for the price of the median U.S. home. Toledo, OH rounds out the podium, with a gratifying 4,444 square feet for $400,000.
Eight more large U.S. cities could also lure in potential buyers and professionals willing to relocate in order to get more space: Wichita, KS; Fort Wayne, IN; Buffalo, NY; Milwaukee, WI; Indianapolis, IN; Tulsa, OK; Lubbock, TX and El Paso, TX all offer between 3,000 and 4,000 square feet of living space for the price of the median home.
Thanks to their generous space, homes in these 25 cities might be more appealing to buyers who need and want more square footage. What’s more, they also offer all the perks of city life — without the compromise on space. Therefore, space-strapped home seekers who are willing and able to relocate (and could benefit from a change in scenery) have not one, but two options: Either the suburbs of their current city or one of these more generous cities.
East Coast vs. West Coast: Which Side Offers the Most Space?
When it comes to living space and spacious homes, nothing beats the Midwest and the Southwest. Cities in states like Ohio and Texas almost always top the lists of most spacious homes. Conversely, coastal cities redeem their high density and lack of elbow room through professional and lifestyle opportunities.
But even in coastal cities, all homes are not built equal. And the homes that buyers can secure for $400,000 vary greatly, as well.
Manhattan and San Francisco balance each other out: Although Manhattan offers the least space for the median home price, San Francisco buyers get only a little more bang for their buck. The same goes for urban enclaves like Brooklyn and Boston on the one hand and Fremont and San Jose on the other: All four cities offer very similar (albeit small) amounts of space, maintaining the balance.
After that point, the case can be made that West Coast buyers — and California homebuyers, in particular — are getting less square footage for the same money: For every four to five West Coast cities that make an appearance on the list of cities with the least space for $400,000, only one to three East Coast cities also make the list.
Residential Space vs. Density: How Much Space Can Buyers Hope to Get for the Median Price in the Top 10 Most Populous U.S. Cities?
The top 10 largest cities all have populations greater than 1 million residents, with New York simply blowing all other urban hubs out of the water with more than 8 million people.
Density doesn't encourage sprawl, so it makes sense that tall, compact housing is favored in urban centers, whereas sprawl is relegated to the suburbs. According to The New York Times and the latest U.S. Census data:
"[...] urban counties grew slower than suburban ones over the past decade. But more detailed neighborhood census counts reveal that U.S. population density actually rose in the past decade after falling in the previous two decades, a result of faster growth in the most concentrated parts of urban counties.
The fastest-growing neighborhoods were suburbs on the edges of metropolitan areas. From 2010 to 2020, low-density suburbs with 100 to 1,000 households per square mile — think of sprawling exurban areas outside Houston or Raleigh, N.C. — grew fastest."
And tall, compact housing usually means less spacious housing. Aside from New York, where buyers get the least amount of space for the median home price, cities like San Jose, CA; San Diego, CA and Los Angeles, CA all offer much less than 1,000 square feet of living space for $400,000.
The two cities that break the mold are (perhaps unsurprisingly) in Texas: Houston and San Antonio both offer around 2,400 square feet for the national median, which makes them really stand out among the top 10 most populous U.S. cities.
Whether they prefer tall or sprawl, with their advantages and shortcomings, the pandemic and the new work-from-home setting have definitely given many buyers more options and food for thought. Yet, depending on their new need for space — and their financial capabilities — it remains to be seen how many buyers will opt for more space and what these changes will mean for local housing markets.
Scroll through the table below for the full data on all 100 U.S. cities included in the analysis:
- For this study, we took into consideration the top 100 most populous U.S. cities based on the latest U.S. Census data.
- All the local median home prices and prices per square foot were sourced from brokerages, MLS, realtor associations and various listings portals.
- To calculate the amount of space that the new median home price of $400,000 can buy, we divided the median home price by the median price per square foot in each city.
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