If you’ve ever thought about living beachside in Malibu or purchasing a cabin in the picturesque mountainside town of Boulder, Colorado (dubbed the happiest city in America), taking a look at the average price of a home in your dream state is a logical step in making your daydreams feel a little closer to reality—but do you make enough money to actually make it happen?
To help with those calculations, Howmuch.net recently released a study in which they looked at the average income needed to afford a home in each state in America, by pulling average home prices from Zillow and calculating monthly payments with a 4 to 5 percent interest rate and a 10 percent down payment. As many financial advisors say one should invest a maximum of 30 percent of one’s gross income (the amount before taxes, retirement savings, etc.) into a home, Howmuch.net used this number as a benchmark to calculate the absolute minimum salary needed to afford a home in each state.
The results? West Virginia won as the cheapest state to afford a home—you can buy a $149,500 house with a salary of $38,320—while Hawaii boasts the highest salary needed: You’d need to make $153,520 for a house worth $610,000. California, home to five of the most unaffordable cities in the world, is also high on the list. A notable state missing from the top five is New York, suggesting that the priciness of Manhattan is counterbalanced by the rest of the state. Not surprisingly, the Midwest offers more affordable homes as a whole, with Michigan and Ohio suggesting the most affordability.
Below, check out the five most affordable and least affordable states to buy a home.
Top Five States Where You Need the Highest Salaries to Afford the Average Home
1. Hawaii: $153,520 for a house worth $610,000
2. Washington, DC: $138,440 for a house worth $549,000
3. California: $120,120 for a house worth $499,900
4. Massachusetts: $101,320 for a house worth $419,900
5. Colorado: $100,200 for a house worth $415,000
Top Five States Where You Need the Lowest Salaries to Afford the Average Home
1. West Virginia: $38,320 for a house worth $149,500
2. Ohio: $38,400 for a house worth $149,900
3. Michigan: $40,800 for a house worth $160,000
4. Arkansas: $41,040 for a house worth $161,000
5. Missouri: $42,200 for a house worth $165,900
This study isn’t perfect, of course: The average home price can vary greatly depending on whether a home is located in a big city or more rural area, and the cost of homes fluctuates throughout the year. Still, this does provide a good baseline for potential homebuyers to see whether or not they can afford a home in their dream cities, and they can also look at their career options in each city to determine whether they’ll be able to settle down there long-term.
However, Priya Malani, financial expert and co-founder of Stash Wealth, isn’t fully convinced. “In my opinion, the study is actually a bit dangerous,” she tells Domino. “If people make the decision to buy a home because their salary is at or above the level listed, they may be very surprised to find out that they can't afford to keep their lifestyle while living in the property.”
According to Malani, the study is actually just letting readers know where their income would fall in accordance to qualifying for a mortgage, which is only one part of buying a home. “Even if you qualify, you may not have the funds for the down payment,” says Malani. “You may be stuck in this new home and forced to eat ramen noodles every night because you can't afford anything else, and it's no fun to have a house and not be able to live your life outside of it.”
In order to start thinking about buying a home, Malani suggests factoring in the additional costs to your overall lifestyle, and then adding that to the average income. "Certain markets have additional monthly costs with a home outside of the mortgage—in NYC, it could cost another $800 a month in maintenance fees (just an estimate),” she explains. “So, thinking that you should put all your money into your house because ‘your parents told you it was a great investment’ is not so smart.”
If you have a lower income but are looking to buy a home in an expensive state, Malani insists you must do one of two things: Figure out a way to earn more, or figure out a way to spend less. “But reaching for a home isn't necessarily a smart financial move,” she insists. “Renting isn't throwing money away, and it just might give you the time you need to afford that down payment all on your own.”
Want to see where your state falls with regard to home buying? Check out the entire list here.
See more home buying news:
Why Spring Is About to Be NYC Homebuyers' Favorite Season
Are You Ready to Buy a Home? Here’s How to Tell
The Biggest Millennial Homebuying Misconception, Explained
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