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Best Cities for Homeownership in Virginia

A tight supply of available homes for sale usually results in soaring prices. This has certainly been the case in Virginia lately. In February, for example, Virginia REALTORS reported that while home sales have slowed in some parts of the state, prices are continuing to rise due to both tight inventory and growing demand. The median sales price in February statewide was $269,500, which reflects a 2% rise from the year before.

Still, even in a booming housing market, is homeownership paying off for residents throughout the state?

To determine the best cities for homeownership in Virginia, LendingTree looked at data collected in 2013 and 2017 by the U.S. Census Bureau for both metropolitan and micropolitan areas with 10,000 to 50,000 residents. We compared 15 areas on measures that homeowners often use themselves, such as median home values, which are key to determining net worth, and home appreciation, which is key to assessing how well an housing investment has fared. We also looked at local unemployment rates and average commute times, which can help homeowners gauge an area’s overall well-being and liveability. Here is what we found:

Key findings

  • The Harrisonburg metro area is the best place for homeownership in Virginia. It has a high median home value ($211,700), low unemployment (4.9%) and increasing home values from 2013-2017 (3.17%).
  • The Winchester metro area is the second best for homeownership. This area has a high median home value ($240,200), low unemployment (4.4%) and decreasing housing costs from 2013-2017 (-8.15%).
  • The worst place in Virginia for homeownership is the Martinsville micro area. This area has the lowest median home value ($108,700), the highest rate of unemployment (8.6%) and increasing housing costs from 2013-2017 (1.22%). Notably, this area also has the second-greatest increase in median home values from 2013-2017 (14.3%).

The best cities for homeownership in Virginia

1. Harrisonburg metro area

Harrisonburg, a mountain town in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, ranked first on this list. From 2013 to 2017, homes here appreciated 3.17%, and costs were down slightly, too. In 2017, a home in Harrisonburg had a median value of $211,700.  Residents here had the shortest commute on this list, 19.3 minutes. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate was a reasonably low 4.9%.

2. Winchester metro area

This city in the northern Shenandoah Valley is known as the “Apple Capital” for its scenic surrounding orchards. In 2017, the median home value here was $240,200. Homes appreciated at almost the same rate (3.13%) as in Harrisonburg, but housing costs went down a whopping 8.15% — the largest slide for any city on this list. Commuters here had a noticeably tougher time, with an average commute of 30.7 minutes. But in 2017 unemployment was on the low end, just 4.4%.

3. Staunton-Waynesboro metro area

This two-town metro area in the Shenandoah Valley had a median home value of $190,800 in 2017. In the preceding four years, values went up only slightly, 0.63%, while housing costs decreased only 0.94%. But in 2017 this area had a 4.1% unemployment rate that tied it with the six-ranked Charlottesville area for the lowest on this list. Residents here spent about 22.5 minutes getting to work.

4. Blacksburg-Christiansburg-Radford metro area

Two large and prominent universities, Virginia Tech and Radford University, have helped attract homebuyers to this complex of small towns in southwest Virginia. From 2013 to 2017, the area enjoyed healthy home value appreciation of 5.41%. In the same period, housing costs went up 0.83%. At $181,300, the median home value in 2017 was relatively low for Virginia. But the unemployment rate was just 5.2%, and the average commute time was 21.1 minutes, the second-lowest of all cities surveyed.

5. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area

This metro area, one of the wealthiest and most educated in the country, includes the District of Columbia, a wide swath of counties in Maryland and Virginia and a small portion of West Virginia. In 2017, the median home value in the area was $399,800, the highest on this list. Between 2013 and 2017, home values grew 6.9% from 2013 to 2017, while housing costs decreased 1.7%. The unemployment rate here was a relatively low 5.5%. But commute times were another story: It took residents an average of 34.6 minutes to get to work, the longest time for any city surveyed.

6. Charlottesville metro area

Charlottesville is a college town about 100 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. Home values here saw no change at all between 2013 and 2017, although housing costs went down 1.26%. In 2017, the median home value was $272,300, the second-highest of all cities surveyed. Like the Staunton-Waynesboro area, Charlottesville had a very low 4.1% unemployment rate in 2017. The average commute time, though, was 24.5 minutes, or about two minutes longer.

7. Roanoke metro area

Roanoke, the largest metro area in the Blue Ridge Mountains, recently saw its population cross 100,000 for the first time since 1983. Roanoke had the lowest median home value on our top 10 list ($175,100), and home values nudged up only 0.69% from 2013 to 2017. Still, housing costs declined 3.29%; and in 2017, the unemployment rate was a relatively low 5.4%. It took residents an average of 23.8 minutes to get to work.

8. Richmond metro area

A fast-growing city in the heart of Virginia, Richmond has experienced a growth spurt over the last decade. Richmond was one of two cities we surveyed that saw housing values decline from 2013-2017, although the decline was very slight, just 0.09%. More encouraging was the 4.63% drop in housing costs during the same time. In 2017, a home here had a median value of $225,200, and the city had an unemployment rate of 6.3%.

9. Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News metro area

This metro area straddles the southeastern corner of Virginia and also includes a bit of North Carolina. Like Richmond, the Virginia Beach area saw a slight drop in home values between 2013 and 2017. However, housing costs also dropped by 3.11%. In 2017, the median home value here was $240,500, relatively high compared to the rest of Virginia and one that probably reflects the area’s popularity as a seaside getaway.

10. Bluefield micro area

The Bluefield micro area consists of two neighboring counties in Virginia and West Virginia anchored by the small city of Bluefield. Homeowners here really saw their investments pay off; home values rose 15.96% between 2013 and 2017, more than twice as much as for any top 10 city on this list. That increase was nearly triple the 5.81% rise in housing costs during the same time period. Still, in 2017, Bluefield had the lowest median home value for a top 10 city, just $118,400. It also had a higher-than-average unemployment rate of 6.9%.

Homebuying tips for Virginia

If you’re thinking of buying in Virginia, expect competition and be prepared to act fast.

Strong job growth is continuing to fuel the state’s housing market, according to Virginia REALTORS, which also reports that active listings for homes in February were down 7% from the year before. While prices for homes in Virginia have risen in almost every major regional market, certain areas have seen bigger jumps than others. For example, both the eastern and southwestern parts of the state saw median sale prices grow 19% from February 2018 to February 2019. By contrast, prices rose just 5% in northern Virginia, for a final median home value of $424,900.

If you’re a first-time homebuyer, consider taking a class in homeownership from the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA). The VHDA can also help with financing for a more affordable loan. On the other hand, if coming up with a down payment is a concern, consider looking into a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loan, which lets qualified buyers put down jut 3.5% of a home’s total price. If you qualify, you may also want to consider a Veterans Affairs (VA) loan, which doesn’t require any down payment at all.

Many homebuyers — especially first-timers — are often unaware of all the many costs associated with being a homeowner, from closing costs and property taxes, to homeownership fees for single-family homes, as well as for condominiums and townhomes. Often, they’re also unfamiliar with just how carefully most lenders check qualifications such as a borrower’s credit score and debt-to-income (DTI) ratios.

When looking to buy a home, be wary of drastically upping your DTI with a big-ticket purchase like a new car or expensive furniture, cautions Yvonne Covey, a realtor at Rose & Womble Realty in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

“I’ve seen buyers who couldn’t close because their debt-to-income ratio was too high,” she said. “Your credit is checked at the beginning of the process and at the end as well.”

Methodology:

The methodology for this study was simple and straightforward.

1: Collect metropolitan statistical areas (“MSAs”) and micropolitan statistical areas from the U.S. Census Bureau using 2017 population data.

2: Each MSA and micropolitan statistical area was ranked on a scale from 15 (Best) to 1 (Worst) for five different metrics. Those metrics are:

Median Home Value (15-Highest Value, 1-Lowest Value)

Unemployment Rate (15-Lowest Rate, 1-Highest Rate)

Average Commute Time (15-Shortest Time, 1-Longest Time)

Median Home Value Appreciation (2013-2017) (15-Greatest Appreciation, 1-Smallest Appreciation)

Median Change in Yearly Housing Costs (2013-2017) (15-Smallest Cost Change, 1-Greatest Positive Cost Change) — The formula for this metric is:

(((Monthly Housing Costs for 2017 *12)+(Real Estate Tax for 2017))/ ((Monthly Housing Costs for 2013 *12)+(Real Estate Tax for 2013))-1)

3: An average score was then calculated for each MSA based upon the scores received for each metric.

4: The MSAs and micropolitan statistical areas were then ranked on a scale of 1 (Best) to 15 (Worst) based on their average scores.

5: All metrics were ranked equally.

Data:

All data were obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau. More information on where the data came from is provided below:

2017 Median Home Value, Monthly Housing Costs, Real Estate Taxes

  • Filtered for all MSAs
  • Then filter for Financial Characteristics for housing units with a mortgage – 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

2017 Unemployment Rate and Median Commute Time

  • Filtered for all MSAs
  • Then filter for Selected Economic Characteristics – 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

2013 Median Home Value, Monthly Housing Costs, Real Estate Taxes

  • Filtered for all MSAs
  • Then filter for Financial Characteristics for housing units with a mortgage – 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates
 

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