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10 rising U.S. cities where homeownership is affordable

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These exciting, overlooked metros offer alternatives for urbanites sick of coastal real estate prices

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Welcome back to Property Lines, a column by Curbed senior reporter Patrick Sisson that spotlights real estate trends and hot housing markets across the country. Comments, tips, and suggestions on where Property Lines should head next are welcome at patrick@curbed.com.

With the proliferation of million-dollar listings and skyrocketing real estate prices, many living in major U.S. cities consider homeownership a fantasy. That, as we’re constantly told, is the price of urban living. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Plenty of smaller—and often overlooked—U.S. cities offer great value, walkable neighborhoods, and urban amenities, all without the need for seven-figure mortgages. These dynamic cities often get left out of the discussion, but are worth another look for those looking to avoid the cost and congestion of bigger cities.

To create this list (which is in no particular order), Curbed consulted a number of experts—representing the Urban Land Institute, RCLCO Real Estate Advisors, American Planning Association, and Realtor.com—then checked their suggestions against a number of data points, including job growth, home value, and millennial population growth. We purposely avoided some of the picks that, having been listed in similar articles, have long been recognized as booming (looking at you, Austin, Nashville, and Pittsburgh).

Indianapolis, Indiana

By the numbers: Millennial population growth in 2016, 13 percent

Median home price: $175,000

Population: 853,173

Selling points: Spurred in part by a Super Bowl building boom from 2012, Indianapolis has seen renewed focus on downtown, with an infusion of culinary destinations and cultural attractions, such as the Cultural Trail bike loop, that have helped dispel a particularly painful former nickname, “Nap Town.” Local realtors have said the booming home market is set to be only more competitive in the coming year.

Noteworthy neighborhoods and developments: The Lockerbie Lofts and an extension of the CityWay apartment complex will add hundreds of new luxury units to the city core, and the Market Square area is set to boom with the new Deborah Burke-designed Cummins headquarters and a high-end apartment development.

Downtown Durham, North Carolina
Downtown Durham, North Carolina
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Durham, North Carolina

By the numbers: Millennial population growth in 2016, 15 percent; 2011-2016 five-year population growth, 7 percent

Median home price: $320,000

Population: 257,636

Selling points: Long considered Raleigh’s sleepy cousin, Durham has come into its own with a resurgent, walkable downtown, diverse population, and all the economic and cultural advantages of the Research Triangle, the cluster of top-flight universities around Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Office developments and restorations projects are transforming the city core, and Realtor.com forecasts that Durham will one of the nation’s hottest housing markets next year.

Noteworthy neighborhoods and developments: Downtown’s older building stock and warehouses have provided raw material for eye-catching creative reuse projects, such as the sleek Durham Hotel and local outpost of the 21c hotel chain, built inside a 1937 office building, as well as new residential and retail spots, such as the soon-to-open Liberty Warehouse Apartments and The Chesterfield, a science and tech hub going up in the Bright Leaf district.

The American Tobacco Historic District, home to multi-use development as well as a minor league ballpark and performing arts center, anchored by a massive Lucky Strike facility, helped anchor an urban revival in the area, and retail is thriving in the Ninth Street Shopping District. More suburban Woodcroft and Chancellors Ridge have been particularly hot housing developments, and the renovation of the historic Erwin Building near Duke promises to add some particularly sleek condos to the market.

Colorado Springs, Colorado

By the numbers: Home sales forecast for 2017, up 6.71 percent; Millennial population growth in 2016, 15 percent; 2011-2016 five-year population growth, 7 percent; 2016 year-over-year sale price appreciation, 7 percent

Median home price: $334,847

Population: 456,568

Selling points: Fast replicating Denver’s advantages without its loftier price tag, Colorado Springs offers much more than proximity to the mountains. A business boom, especially in the tech sector (aerospace and cybersecurity are huge thanks to the local Air Force presence), as well as high scores on quality of life metrics mean the future looks just as bright. It’s expected to be one of the top markets for future jobs, according to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics job projects analysis.

Noteworthy neighborhoods and developments: The Old North End is filled with classic old Victorians, with many listed on the historic register, while Old Colorado City near downtown is filled with galleries and other cultural hotspots.

Provo, Utah

By the numbers: Job growth 2.3 percent, unemployment 3.7 percent

Median home price: $334,150

Population: 115,264

Selling points: Entrepreneurs find a lot to like about this growing Utah city. Home to Brigham Young University, Provo combines college town community with a pristine landscape and a surprisingly vibrant tech industry (at least for those who have missed the city’s run of big-money venture capital deals). Celebrated for its affordability and considered one of the nation’s healthiest places to live, Provo gives nature lovers easy access to the Utah Lake and Wasatch Range.

Noteworthy neighborhoods and developments: The turn-of-the-century downtown has seen a score of new developments over the last few years, including the mixed-use 63 Center, and, this being Utah, the new Temple View Apartments, adjacent to the new Provo City Center Temple. The ‘burbs are booming, too. Part of the so-called Silicon Slopes (connected by the FrontRunner commuter rail line, which runs all the way north to Ogden), the area has seen a number of tech campuses and developments come to town since Adobe arrived in 2012, especially in the East Bay.

Jacksonville, Florida

By the numbers: Home sales forecast 7 percent, job growth 3 percent, five-year population growth 5 percent

Median home price: $283,900

Population: 868,031

Selling points: Jacksonville is a diverse city that’s actually the biggest by land mass in the United States (outside Alaska). It’s a bit of a sleeper, having just embarked on the types of urban renovation projects that have already come to fruition in other metros. Downtown has had plenty of false starts over the last few decades; see the Skyway, the city’s futuristic-looking but ultimately limited monorail transit system, or the much-hyped Shipyards plan, a waterfront development scheme proposed by Jaguars owner Shad Khan that’s currently in limbo.

But a number of promising signs—such as the nationally recognized Laura Street, which boasts a famous art walk and stunning architecture, and a steep rise in smaller downtown development projects—points to steady, expanded growth over the next few years.

Noteworthy neighborhoods and developments: The housing market is expected to be one of the ten busiest in the nation this year, according to Realtor.com, propelled by areas such as Riverside, a picturesque area lined with turn-of-the-century architecture. It offers plenty of housing options close to downtown, and a little more character than many of the area’s sprawling suburbs.

The booming Short North District in Columbus, Ohio
The booming Short North District in Columbus, Ohio
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Columbus, Ohio

By the numbers: Job growth 2.3 percent, unemployment 3.99 percent, millennial population growth 15 percent

Median home price: $189,900

Population: 850,106

Selling points: This Ohio city has a lot to offer for such an often overlooked, and affordable, location. The city’s tech scene, buoyed by Ohio State University and a recent victory in the Smart City Challenge (the Department of Transportation’s $40 million grant to develop next-generation municipal transportation), is booming, the economy is diverse (it has the third-biggest fashion industry in the country), and lively shopping, retail and arts can be found in the the Short North and Brewery District.

Noteworthy neighborhoods and developments: In 2016 alone, half a billion dollars in investment has continued to reshape downtown Columbus, adding new residential and commercial options, including mid-rise apartments, new projects in the burgeoning Arena District, and a renovation of the historic Art Deco LeVeque Tower into a high-end hotel.

New developments breaking ground in the Scioto Peninsula, which builds upon an area that just saw the creation of a new park, will add a new riverfront neighborhood adjacent to downtown. For homeowners in love with historic architecture, head straight for the German Village.

Providence, Rhode Island
Providence, Rhode Island
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Providence, Rhode Island

By the numbers: Millennial population growth 13 percent, sales prices appreciation year-over-year 9 percent

Median home price: $310,000

Population: 179,207

Selling points: Providence offers one of the country’s more stunning downtowns, an incredibly walkable series of small neighborhoods filled with architectural gems. They have helped anchors the New England city’s resurgence over the last few years, and made it one of the hottest real estate markets of 2016.

Noteworthy neighborhoods and developments: Downtown, or Downcity, has jumped back after a prolonged period of extensive historic renovations in areas like the Jewelry District. Hipness abounds in the West Side, and a redeveloped stretch of highway has become the I-195 Redevelopment District, filled with parks and art installations. A stroll down Benefit Street, which intersects with the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, offers magnificent historic architecture.

St. Louis, Missouri

By the numbers: Millennial population growth, 13 percent; sales price appreciation year-over-year, 7 percent

Median home price: $179,000

Population: 315,685

Selling points: The Gateway to the West has traditionally had a low profile, but its fortunes look increasingly brighter these days, with a billion-dollar construction boom, including new work around the Ballpark Village development, and a fast-growing startup scene.

Noteworthy neighborhoods and developments: Reports about the best places to live often focus on suburban areas such as Creve Coeur, Clayton, Richmond Heights, and Olivette, but downtown St. Louis, and walkable areas like Cherokee Street, are starting to see a lot more attention.

Developed in pockets after the automobile allowed for more decentralized development, St. Louis feels more spread out than other major cities, but that hasn’t stopped a number of high-profile developments from gaining more attention, such as the City Foundry Food Hall, which recently began building out space in the Federal-Mogul building. It’s part of a large mixed-use development to reshape Midtown, which already boasts the Cortex innovation hub.

San Antonio, Texas

By the Numbers: Five-year population growth, 8 percent; unemployment, 3.73 percent

Median home price: $275,500

Population: 1,469,845

Selling points: It may lack the supercharged tech scene of nearby Austin and the big name corporations and industries based in Dallas and Houston, but San Antonio offers affordability and community as a solid tradeoff. One of the nation’s fastest-growing cities, it’s poised to become a diverse cutting-edge hub of education, tech, and commerce, with a strong Hispanic influence. It’s the seventh-largest city in the country, and it may just be coming into its own as a national force.

Noteworthy neighborhoods and developments: A new 37-story skyscraper going up downtown, the Frost Tower, serves as a symbol of the city’s new ambitions and energy. The iconic Riverwalk, a network of pedestrian pathways along the San Antonio River, has seen further growth with adjacent districts such as the Pearl, a decade-old, multimillion-dollar renovation project that serves as a roadmap for the forthcoming development of an old Lone Star Brewery. Hip new locales such as the Blue Star Arts Complex and Alamo Quarry Market have bolstered the city’s cultural cred as well. As far as residential property goes, nearby suburb Alamo Heights is celebrated for its small-town charms, and King William boasts tree-lined streets and restored bungalows.

Boise, Idaho

By the numbers: Millennial population growth 8 percent, unemployment 3.68 percent

Median home price: $254,490

Population: 218,281

Selling points: Even more than Provo, Boise offers small-scale urbanism surrounded by nature, with recreation activities and a gorgeous natural landscape both easily accessible (and affordable). There’s no doubt it’s isolated and without any big cities nearby—Salt Lake City is 350 miles away—but the compact capital, with a walkable downtown, plenty of arts options, and great rankings for livability factors such as health and wellness, can quickly feel like a hometown. Time Magazine called out the city in 2014 as one of the place in America “getting it right.”

Noteworthy neighborhoods and developments: While it has a fraction of the activity of bigger cities on this list, Boise has still seen its own (relative) downtown boom, with projects such as the 2014 Zions Bank building adding new character to the city. The city’s North End is known for its stately, charming older homes.

About our data: Millennial population growth estimates come from Nielsen Demographics. Median home price and year-over-year appreciation figures comes from Realtor.com. Unemployment figures are drawn from Moody’s Analytics. Current city population data is from the U.S. Census Bureau.


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