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Affordable Homes: Real Estate in Nation's 10 Most Cheap & Livable Metro Areas

By Monte Helme

The 10 most livable and most affordable real estate metro areas in the United States have a number of other favorable characteristics in common, according to a new HouseHunt "Current Real Estate Market Conditions survey conducted by HouseHunt, Inc., a consumer-oriented Internet firm that provides free information to thousands of homeowners, home buyers and home sellers across the nation. The survey shows median home prices range from $130,100 to $194,400 for existing homes for sale and also found:

The majority of the 10 metro areas report balanced, good-to-active housing markets with sellers usually getting 95% or more of their asking prices. Inventories of unsold homes are mostly limited.

The majority of the 10 metro areas are experiencing strong job and population growth and good economic news. They offer quality lifestyles, good schools and solid family recreation along with other amenities. Sales data shows that many recent home buyers are relocating from other, often more costly areas.

All 10 metro markets are attracting both first-time and move-up buyers because of affordable prices, low mortgage interest rates and multiple financing options.

Median real estate prices for existing single-family homes in the 10 metro areas range between $130,100 and $194,400, compared to the national median real estate price of $188,800. Four of the 10 areas reported double-digit price appreciation in the past 12 months.

All 10 metro areas have major universities located there.

Five of the 10 metro areas are popular tourism destinations. Nine of the 10 metro areas are located in warm to moderate climates.

The 10 most livable and most affordable metro areas as determined by criteria developed by "Places Rated Almanac (David Savageau) and the latest quarterly median sales prices compiled by the National Association of Realtors are:

1. Salt Lake City-Ogden, UT $157,000

2. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL $172,800

3. Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, NC $175,600

4. Houston, TX $138,100

5. Phoenix, AZ $193,800

6. Cincinnati OH, $139,600

7. Louisville, KY $130,100

8. Austin-San Marcos, TX $154,100

9. Orlando, FL $194,400

10.Nashville,TN $152,100.

Four of the 10 metro areas - Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, Nashville and Austin-San Marcos - are also listed in the latest edition of Lee and Saralee Rosenberg's "50 Fabulous Places To Raise Your Family (Melissa Giovagnoli). Like Savageau, the authors give high marks for schools, jobs and business opportunities, family fun, housing affordability, living costs, climate, health care, transportation and quality of life.

"With all the negative news about spiking home prices and the widening affordability gap, it's refreshing to find highly desirable metro areas where most buyers can find affordable homes, said Michael Bearden, president and CEO of HouseHunt, Inc. "Our quarterly "Current Market Conditions' reports are accessible on many of our agent websites across the country. For recent home sales in their neighborhoods, homeowners and home sellers can also find this information easily and immediately on HouseHunt's new website."

Mark Jenkins of Realty Executives, exclusive HouseHunt member agent for Salt Lake City, described housing activity in his metro area as "improving from a depressed buyers market." He said many buyers are relocating from out-of-state to take advantage of the lifestyle and lower home prices. A median price of $157,000 would probably buy a 2,000 square foot home with three bedrooms, two baths and a two-car garage on a one-third or one-four acre lot in a good location. Highest home price appreciation is occurring near the University of Utah. Another hot spot is Park City, a popular ski resort in the nearby mountains where Lee Merryweather of World Class Realty is the exclusive HouseHunt member agent.

An active housing market is reported in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area by Linda Ippolito of Keller Williams Realty, exclusive HouseHunt member agent for Bayshore, Westshore-South Tampa, and Davis Island-South Tampa. She said the whole area is exploding with growth and new industries. Available housing is in limited supply. Although the median price home is $172,800 for the entire metro area, median home prices are closer to $400,000 in South Tampa. Waterfront properties are also priced higher. Average price appreciation is 15.7% in the past year. A slower-paced but high quality lifestyle is reported in the Raleigh - Durham - Chapel Hill metro area by Ray Lenahan of Robert Gray Realtors, exclusive HouseHunt member agent with Robert Gray for Wake Forest, Rolesville and Youngsville.

"The big attraction is our Research Triangle, three major universities, excellent quality of life, and moderate weather, Lenahan said - He said the median home price of $175,600 in the metro area is probably closer to $190,000 in his market area. "That will buy a new home with 2,000 square feet with three bedrooms, two baths on a half-acre lot. Either that, or, it would buy an older home in a more established neighborhood, he added.

Houston, with its "can do entrepreneurial spirit and liberal-to-zero zoning restrictions, is attracting people from both the East and West Coasts to relocate and to invest in rental properties, according to Kathi Frank of RE/MAX The Woodlands, exclusive HouseHunt member agent for The Woodlands and Woodland Springs. The Woodlands is a 27,000-acre planned community located 27 miles north of downtown Houston. "Median price home for the entire metro area is $138,100, she said. "That will buy a new, 1,400 square foot home from a production builder in North Houston or Woodland Springs." She added: "Estate properties are priced from the low $200,000s to more than $3 million."

Reva Schafer of West USA Realty, exclusive HouseHunt member agent for Scottsdale and Northeast Phoenix, reported a limited inventory and a very active seller's market, with sellers usually getting 100% or more of their asking prices. The median price for the metro area is $193,800 "but hard to find anything under $300,000 in my area, Schafer said. "It's more like $350,000 to $400,000 as a median price in Scottsdale.. Lots are jumping in price. So are houses." Year-to-year appreciation is 24.4%! She cited tremendous growth in the suburbs of Peoria and Chandler. "A year ago, investors were buying from builders and flipping (re-selling) the properties. No more. Now, a buyer must live in the property for at least one year to qualify."

Good job growth, corporate relocations and an improving local economy is fueling the housing market in the Cincinnati metro market, according to Saralou Durham of RE/MAX Preferred Group and exclusive HouseHunt member agent for suburban Montgomery and Hyde Park in Hamilton County, OH. "We have fabulous cultural and recreational facilities and a good quality lifestyle, she said.."A median home price of $139,600 seems a bit low, depending on the area. That amount of money will probably buy a small two bedroom, one bath home needing some repair or remodeling in one of our small suburban communities."

In Louisville, Charlotte Wright and Michael McConnell of Evergreen Realty are exclusive HouseHunt member agents for suburban Jeffersontown. "Louisville is now the 16th largest metro area in the nation, Wright said. "We're a hub for UPS and have two Ford plants located here. Military personnel stationed as nearby Ft. Knox and their families are also relocating here, she said. "The median price of $130,100 is probably low - $150,000 would be more accurate. The latter will buy a three bedroom, two bath 1,200 square foot house with a garage in a good area."

Ann Parr of RE/MAX Austin Advantage and exclusive HouseHunt member agent for Westlake & Lake Travis said well-priced listings are attracting multiple, full-price offers in a very active seller's market. Average time on the market is 60-90 days. "We have younger professionals who want to live close to downtown but the primary place to live is by the lakes, she said. Prices range from $150,000 to $6 million. "Nice homes can be purchased for $250,000 to $350,000. The median price home is $154,100 in Austin. That would probably buy a starter home in the Round Rock area or a home needing remodeling in Central Austin. Patio homes for retired people near Lake Austin sell for $200,000."

One of the hottest of the 10 metro markets on the list is Orlando, according to Steve Farah of the Royal Realty Group. Farah is exclusive HouseHunt member agent for Alafaya & Waterford Lakes and Kissimmee: "We're experiencing unbelievable growth and home appreciation, he said. "Our seller's market is so active that listings sometimes last only hours, not days. Buyers frequently must act immediately or the property will be gone! He feels that the median price of $194,400 is probably low because of high demand and the low inventory. "A median price of $250,000 would be more realistic and would buy a three "bedroom, two bath home with 1,700 to 2,000 square feet." Since the first quarter of 2004, the median price home has appreciated 28.7%.

Nashville, the 10th ranked metro area on the list, offers a relaxed, friendly lifestyle and affordable home prices to newcomers, according to Mary Barbee of Coldwell Banker Andrews and Associates. Plus, there is no state income tax. Barbee is the exclusive HouseHunt member agent for South East Nashville. "The median price of $152,100 seems low - it's more like $170,000, depending on location. That amount of money would probably buy a three-bedroom, two-bath new home with 1,200-1,500 square feet in the suburban communities of Madison and Smyrna, she said. The median home price is up 11.3% in the past year in the Nashville metro area.

About The Author

Monte Helme is a national public relations consultant with HouseHunt, Inc. Visit's real estate page @ to search homes for sale or find out what is your home worth at


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